Friday, April 27, 2007

Dangers of Credentialism

I've long been hostile to the irrational focus on a degree when deciding whether someone is qualified for a job. I had this attitude when I was an undegreed software engineer, and I am not any more sympathetic to credentialism now that I have earned a BA and an MA.

Requiring certain degrees is a cheap and easy way to reduce the size of the pile of resumes that someone has to carefully read, to decide who gets brought in for an interview. I suspect that, on average, those applicants with a degree are more qualified than those without, but my experience over the years tells me that the difference in qualification, at least in engineering disciplines, is not huge. I know a few millionaire engineers who did not finish college, and a few who are far wealthier who never attended college at all.

This sad story, on the one hand, is about an integrity problem:
Marilee Jones, the dean of admissions at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, became well known for urging stressed-out students competing for elite colleges to calm down and stop trying to be perfect. Yesterday she admitted that she had fabricated her own educational credentials, and resigned after nearly three decades at M.I.T. Officials of the institute said she did not have even an undergraduate degree.

“I misrepresented my academic degrees when I first applied to M.I.T. 28 years ago and did not have the courage to correct my résumé when I applied for my current job or at any time since,” Ms. Jones said in a statement posted on the institute’s Web site. “I am deeply sorry for this and for disappointing so many in the M.I.T. community and beyond who supported me, believed in me, and who have given me extraordinary opportunities.”
On the other hand, I find myself wondering: if having a degree--and one presumes, a graduate degree, if she ended up with the title of "dean"--is so fundamentally necessary to her job, how is that no one ever noticed her inability until now?

Call me unimpressed with credentialism.

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