Credentialism is often described as the over-emphasis of credentials in society, impacting access to employment, social mobility, and overall social status. With growing interest in nano-diplomas, micro-credentials, the idea of the college degree as a minimum requirement for many jobs; credentialism is an important topic for reflection and discussion.
Much of the initial work on this subject started in the 1970s, but a small number of scholars, authors and others remain vocal about the problem today, especially as we see more people viewing the college degree as becoming the entry-level credential for jobs, and as we see emerging alternatives to traditional credentials.
My concern is with increased access and opportunity, for an education system that cultivates self-directed learners with high levels of agency. Credentialism serves formal learning organizations and other continuing education providers by helping increase the perceived value of credentials earned through these organizations. It leads to a more viable economic model for such institutions. Yet, education is first a social endeavor, one with goals focused upon social good. Learning organizations that become about little more than keeping their doors open, self-preservation, or maintaining control through a monopoly of credentials risk losing sight of the fact that they are a social enterprise. There are economic realities, but those realities are not the organizational mission.
In such a context, I see great value in learning from the many existing resources on the challenges of credentialisim. With that in mind, here are eight such online resources to serve as a primer on the topic. Following that list is a second list of suggested books on the subject.
The Social Sources of Educational Credentialism – This essay provides a number of thought-provoking insights into the role of education credentials for social mobility, as well as how credentialism potentially undermines other important aims of formal education.
The Case Against Credentialism – This Atlantic article from 1985 provides a compelling case against credentialism, drawing attention away from actual knowledge and skill, instead elevating the academic symbols.
The Higher Ed Crisis: Credentialism – “An education and a degree are not the same.” This article expands upon that claim.
The New Politics of Education: Credentialism and Grade Inflation – This article not only addresses credentialism but also perceived challenges associated with grade inflation. The author points out the dangers of using academic credential primarily as currency for employment.
The Soaring Cost of Credentialism – This article makes the important distinction between learning about a profession in a classroom and experiencing in on the job. However, the focus is upon the economic benefits of increased professional credentials in higher education for professors and those leading such institutions.
The Diploma Disease – This is the title of a 1976 book. The link takes you to a short book review, introducing some of the themes in this original text, opening our eyes to some the downside and limitation of an over-dependence upon diplomas a credentials for employment.
Functional and Conflict Theories in Educational Stratification – This academic article is not an easy read for all, but it provides an insight into the connection between educational attainment and social stratification.
Credential Inflation and the Future of Universities – This academic article argues that the “mass production of academic credentials for employment” is a significant problem in contemporary society.
Suggested Books About Credentialism
- How to Succeed in School Without Really Learning: The Credentials Race in American Education by David Labaree
- Disabling Professions by Ivan Illich
- Power in the Highest Degree by Charles Derber, William Schwartz, and Yale Magrass
- Confessions of a Medical Heretic by Robert Mendelsohn
- Proving You’re Qualified: Strategies for Competent People Without College Degrees by Charles Hayes