Disrespecting Credentialism

Why are people who hold degrees from very selective schools more likely to advise me to stay in college and get my degree (from a very selective school) whereas people who hold degrees from unknown schools or have no degree at all more are likely to support a decision to drop out?

Because if I drop out I am disrespecting credentialism — which according to Arnold Kling is “the belief that only people with proper credentials should be hired. If you go to college, you implicitly support credentialism–or at least you do not reject it. If you refuse to go to college, then you show disrespect for credentialism. That disrespect may represent a threat to hiring managers who are credentialist.”

Recently, I met a man in Portland who is going through tough career times. He holds an MBA from a top school and, even late in his career, still cites it prominently in his portfolio of work. At this stage in life he clutches to the credential. He advises me to obtain a similar credential. If I and (many) others do not and nevertheless go on to be successful, the value of his decreases. Thus, I value his advice on the matter but recognize his self-interested bias.

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Here’s a related rule of thumb I just developed:

If the importance of your credential and the prominence with which you advertise it does not decrease with age, you are not achieving or succeeding that much in the real world. Would a successful lawyer begin a letter to a prospective client, “Dear Joe, I graduated from Columbia Law School in 1990”? Of course not. He’d hang his hat on real experiences. Al Gore’s bio on this page doesn’t even mention Vanderbilt or Harvard, two brand names most people would be eager to display. He doesn’t need to. His work speaks for itself.

The exception to this rule of thumb would be academia, where it seems credentials remain at the fore regardless of professional success. But this would make sense. The very idea of academia is rooted in credentialism.

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