I have two degrees: a bachelor's and a master's. I wrote lots of papers, did lots of math, sang in a choir, and completely bombed a Hebrew class. What I didn't learn to do was make coffee. (Or speak Hebrew, but that's my own fault.)

In fact, coffee making wasn't even an offered course at the universities I attended. 

If you can go through four years of undergrad and obtain a bachelor's degree without learning how to make coffee, why on earth does Talkdesk say they prefer a college degree for a job as a part-time barista? Here are their requirements:

  • Must be willing to work a part-time schedule from 7:00 AM-10:00 AM M-F
  • 1+ years of Barista experience in a fast-paced environment
  • Maintain confidentiality and discretion within all aspects of this role
  • Excellent interpersonal skills
  • Team player; always willing to jump in when needed
  • Excited to be part of a fast-growing startup
  • Preferred college degree

"No, sir, I can't tell you what type of coffee the CEO prefers, but if you hang around here he'll come back and you can see for yourself." Whew! Thank goodness for discretion!

How on earth did we get to this ridiculous situation?

I'm not going to argue that good coffee making can't be an art. Undoubtedly it can be. What I'm arguing is that it's an art not taught in college, except through part-time jobs at Starbucks. But, somehow, we got to a situation where a bachelor's degree is equal to an old high school diploma. 

The Wall Street Journal has a theory: Degree Inflation. Frederick M. Hess and Grant Addison write:

Some 61% of employers have rejected applicants with the requisite skills and experience simply because they didn't have a college degree, according to a 2017 Harvard Business School study. If current trends continue, the authors found, "as many as 6.2 million workers could be affected by degree inflation--meaning their lack of a bachelor's degree could preclude them from qualifying for the same job with another employer."

It's not just baristas who find themselves needing degrees where no degree is really needed. The WSJ theorizes that this is part of a subtle form of racial discrimination. If companies can't legally discriminate on the basis of race, they'll find another way around it. I think that's pretty cynical and I don't think companies require degrees to secretly discriminate on the basis of race. (Although there is a disparate impact for sure.)

I think it goes back to your high school days where we started with grade inflation. Remember when a C was supposed to be an average grade? The average unweighted high school GPA is a 3.0, which translates into a B average. Grades have increased as SAT scores have fallen

Because an A still remains the highest grade (in unweighted terms), and what was a C is now a B, then it stands to reason that there isn't a way to tell a true A student. Because you can't trust the person with a high school diploma to have actually learned anything, you look for the next thing--a college degree. Grade inflation happens there as well. So, it makes it difficult to determine actual skills and knowledge. So, the next logical thing happens: demanding master's degrees.

What causes grade inflation? Helicopter parents and wimpy school administrations. It's far easier to give good grades than deal with angry parents. No parent ever calls to complain that you gave their little darling an A when she really earned a B.

The reasons are far more complex, but that has absolutely played a role. And the end result is that each degree means less than it once did. So, to get a part-time job that pays $15 an hour in San Francisco, and has hours that will make it exceedingly difficult to get a full-time professional job, you get to take on a boatload of student loan debt. 

And a note to companies that try to make these jobs look fantastic: we're on to you. Tesla didn't ask for a college degree, but they did promise making coffee would help you change the world. Seriously. (Hat tip QZ for finding this gem.)

Want to change the world?! Help us by serving as a Barista for our caffeine-dependent workforce. Tesla has an opportunity in Manhattan for a skilled, personable Barista to create top-notch coffee creations for our thirsty personnel.

We're Tesla, so we aren't looking for someone ordinary. We're seeking a high-energy, innovative beverage artist to utilize their savvy and creativity in helping us introduce our new Coffee Bar. The successful candidate will possess unparalleled customer service skills, coffee expertise, and an extremely engaging personality. This is an outstanding opportunity to make your mark at the most progressive company in the world.

Let's call it what it is: a job making and serving coffee. It doesn't change the world, although a good and kind barista is better than a bad one. Let's drop grade inflation, degree inflation, and job description inflation. Let's just try honesty. It will save us all a lot of time and money. 

Published on: Apr 10, 2018