What’s correlated with better health, can increase your earning power, and can never be taken away from you once you have it? Hint: the answer is in the title.

For those born in the United States, it was mandated that you stay in school until at least until your 16th birthday (18 in many states). This level of education was once sufficient for building a successful career, but it has become increasingly important to pursue higher education. Thus, the number of people enrolling in college is at an all time high and only continues to rise.

Now, with the increasing number of bachelor’s degree holders still looking for work or remaining underemployed, many are wondering if perhaps the value of a bachelor’s degree has been downgraded to the status once held by the high school diploma.

For jobs that never required a college degree, some employers have begun to view a bachelor’s degree as the bare minimum requirement. For example, many employers are looking to fill bank teller and file clerk jobs with college grads. Now, over one third of college graduates are doing jobs that used to go to high school grads.

Don’t start crying over your bachelor’s diploma just yet, though. While the financial return is no longer what it once was, it still pays to go to college. The benefits are obvious: a few extra years dedicated to learning and growing as a person, a shot at a better career specifically related to your interests (even if it doesn’t happen right away), and a credential that can never be taken away from you. Further, although unemployment has been a major problem in the United States and around the world in the past few years, college graduates have a much lower unemployment rate than those who have only a high school diploma. If it wasn’t for your degree, you wouldn’t even have a shot at most of the jobs out there.

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Further, it’s important to note that education inflation applies to all levels of education. High school diplomas, associates, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorates are all on the rise. As more people become educated, the financial return of each degree will naturally decrease as more job applicants hold those higher credentials. With highly trained individuals chasing fewer and fewer jobs (thanks to the recession), they displace the lesser-trained individuals. Thus, master’s degree holders are taking jobs from bachelor’s graduates, and bachelor’s degree holders are taking jobs from high school grads.

Further, it doesn’t make sense to call our generation “overeducated”, considering the crippling achievement gap and the fact that there are still many who slip through the cracks of our education system.

And, hold up, don’t we want more education? Education is correlated with higher income, better health, more civic participation, a more egalitarian society, and reduced crime. If more education means more of these things, then “education inflation” only indicates that we are indeed on the right track.

Photo via Sean MacEntee