July 17, 2008
The Declining Value of Your College Degree
By GREG IP
July 17, 2008; Page D1
A four-year college degree, seen for generations as a ticket to a better life, is no longer enough to guarantee a steadily
A college degree may not take you as far as you'd expect. However, WSJ's Jennifer Merritt reports on a few fields where a bachelor's degree still
remains a worthy investment.
Just ask Bea Dewing. After she earned a bachelor's degree -- her second -- in computer science from Maryland's
Frostburg State University in 1986, she enjoyed almost unbroken advances in wages, eventually earning $89,000 a
year as a data modeler for Sprint Corp. in Lawrence, Kan. Then, in 2002, Sprint laid her off.
"I thought I might be looking a few weeks or months at the most," says Ms. Dewing, now 56 years old. Instead she
spent the next six years in a career wilderness, starting an Internet café that didn't succeed, working temporary jobs
and low-end positions in data processing, and fruitlessly responding to hundreds of job postings.
The low point came around 2004 when a recruiter for Sprint -- now known as
Corp. -- called seeking to
fill a job similar to the one she lost two years earlier, but paying barely a third of her old salary.
In April, Ms. Dewing finally landed a job similar to her old one in the information technology department of
Inc.'s headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., where she relocated. She earns about 20% less than she did in
2002, adjusted for inflation, but considers herself fortunate, and wiser.
A degree, she says, "isn't any big guarantee of employment, it's a basic requirement, a step you have to take to even be
considered for many professional jobs."
Trends in Education, Salaries
For decades, the typical college graduate's wage rose well above inflation. But no longer. In the economic expansion
that began in 2001 and now appears to be ending, the inflation-adjusted wages of the majority of U.S. workers didn't
grow, even among those who went to college. The government's statistical snapshots show the typical weekly salary
of a worker with a bachelor's degree, adjusted for inflation, didn't rise last year from 2006 and was 1.7% below the
College-educated workers are more plentiful, more commoditized and more subject to the downsizings that used to be