Is degree inflation in archaeology bad?


Keywords: cultural resource management, archaeology, higher education, Doug’s Archaeology

Hashtags: #archaeology, #CRMarch, #higherlearning, @succinctbill,

In November, Doug Rocks-MacQueen wrote the post, “With each passing year your degree means less and less and less and less……..” This post analyzes data collected for the report “Archaeology Labour Market Intelligence: Profiling the Profession, 2012–2013.” Doug indicates, in the last decade, there has been a 150% increase in archaeologists with a Masters and a nearly 200% increase in PhD archaeologists in the United Kingdom. The report also cites other general information, which indicated over 40% of people in the U.K. between the ages of 25 and 34 has a college degree. Among other things, Doug laments the fact that in order to be an archaeologist it is more important than ever that you obtain a college degree. He also notes that a college degree is increasingly necessary to land even a McJob in the U.K.

My response: What’s wrong with that?

There are more people living in both the U.K. and U.S. than ever before. Since the dawn of cultural resource management archaeology in the 1970s, the population in both countries has dramatically increased (about 56% for the U.S. and 14% for the U.K.). Increased population in developed countries like the U.K. and U.S. is likely to lead to more college students. Especially since this population increase came at a time when a large number of working class jobs were outsourced. In the U.S., over 30% of adults have a B.A. (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/24/education/census-finds-bachelors-degrees-at-record-level.html?_r=0). In addition to outsourcing, this increase is partially due to the fact that for the last 60 years the “immeasurable” value of a college degree has been unquestioned in the U.S. and, most likely, in the U.K (although, this is changing http://www.americanthinker.com/2013/11/new_doubts_about_the_value_of_a_college_degree.html). This cult-like belief in higher education and the requirements of the post-manufacturing economy pervades modern society, which pushes more and more young people into school—even poor students that don’t want to be there.

Doug notes that high school diplomas in the U.S. have leveled off since the 1970s while the percentage of the population with a college degree has increased, which has reduced the value of a college degree today. I agree and believe the trifecta of outsourcing, higher entry-level education requirements, and the fact that Baby Boomers, who also have a lot of college degrees, are staying in the workforce forever has devalued Bachelor’s degrees until they are on par with the high school diploma of the 1970s.

As a result, a B.A. in anthropology or archaeology, or a host of other careers does not mean as much as it used to. This fact has been noticed by a lot of other folks these days. Some are even saying a degree isn’t worth the cost (http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2013/11/white-people-are-skeptical-about-the-value-of-a-college-degree/281238/).

What does this have to do with degree inflation in archaeology?

I think the fact that a college degree is a prerequisite for gainful employment among middle class professions is not necessarily a bad thing. The huge cost of that degree is a bad thing. The fact that a B.A. typically does little to prepare you for a career, including a career in archaeology, is also a very bad thing. Students aren’t always getting their money’s worth and it’s increasingly difficult to make the case that they should spend money on a college degree (just like it’s harder to convince Americans to get an ARM instead of a regular mortgage).

Archaeology was born from academia and I feel it’s only fitting that archaeologists get a graduate degree if they’re serious about pursuing it as a career. One hundred years ago, almost all archaeologists were PhD professors. The U.S. Department of Labor already states that a Master’s is necessary for an entry-level position as an archaeologist or anthropologist (http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Life-Physical-and-Social-Science/Anthropologists-and-archeologists.htm [Unfortunately, it also says the median wage is $26/hour and there will be a 21% increase in jobs in the next 10 years. Maybe they’ve never heard of archaeological technicians]).

Executing a research project to completion, being held to a higher academic standard than other students, and learning how to think critically is part of a good graduate education in anthropology/archaeology. That education, when combined with a few years of fieldwork and CRM experience, is what separates a project director from a field tech and a “real” archaeologist from an “avocational.” Archaeology is maturing as a profession, following the path of medicine, law, chemistry, architecture, and a host of other fields. Actually, it’s amazing we didn’t get here sooner.

Many will disagree with this post, but it’s simply how I feel about the claims that there’s degree inflation in archaeology. I’d love to hear your perspective. Please write a comment below or send me an email.

 

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