Why do people keep getting university degrees?

Dual training worthless?

In 2013, for the first time, the majority of young people flocked to the universities after leaving school instead of the companies (Hall, Krekel 2014). Maybe also because the media keep calculating that only studying is worthwhile.

The FAZ article mentioned (but also Focus and all others report similarly) refers to studies by the IAB (Möller 2013; Schmillen, Stüber 2014). Data for 40-year-old male full-time employees in West are considered and the so-called qualification bonus - defined as the average percentage gross additional earnings compared to people - is calculated without completed vocational training and without a higher degree. According to this, an employee with a university degree gains a remarkable 166% in 2010 compared to someone without any training or school leaving certificate, in 1984 the gap was 114%. The study found a wide spread since the mid-1990s (Möller 2013, 14).

So far so good, education “pays off” and that's a good thing. However, anyone who wants to deduce a devaluation of vocational training compared to academic degrees from this data has thought too short. Because: After all, only young people with a high school diploma are able to choose between vocational training in the dual after school or to choose in the academic system. The comparison should then also take place at this level. And suddenly you see a slightly different picture - based on exactly the same data.

If one looks at the far more realistic alternatives between high school diploma and dual vocational training compared to a technical college and university degree, the differences are significantly smaller. The qualification premium for employees with a technical college degree compared to those with a high school diploma and vocational training was 23.5% in 2010, and the gap between high school diploma / professional training and university degree was 36.2%. The gradual difference in the qualification bonus between the FH and university degrees is only 10.7%.

If one compares the qualification bonuses of the three possible Abitur-following degrees in the survey years 1984 and 2010, everything but a dramatic spread emerges over time: the delta between Abitur and apprenticeship is 3.35% compared to the FH degree and 3.98 % compared to a university degree. In the same period, there was hardly any change in the gap between FH and university degrees - the delta between 1984 and 2010 is only 0.24%.

The differences between academic degrees and those based on training in the dual system, on the other hand, are moderate - with a comparable school leaving certificate - and in no way justify the conclusion that it is not economically worthwhile to choose dual training as an entry-level professional qualification after graduating from high school. The moderate differences between can be put into perspective even further:

  • The IAB study compares men at the age of 40; at this age the wage levels differ the most depending on the level of qualification, while the gap closes somewhat as employment progresses (Schmillen, Stüber 2014, 3–4).
  • The cost of studying would have to be deducted: In the 2012 summer semester, these averaged 864 euros per month (Middendorf et al. 2013, 21). With an average study time of 10.6 semesters in the master’s program (Destatis 2013, 17), the deductible costs are EUR 54,950. For comparison: The average training allowance of currently EUR 767 per month (DGB 2014, 35) adds up to an income of EUR 27,612 for three-year vocational training.
  • The study compares differences in the qualification premiums of 40-year-old men; The differences between men and women are sometimes greater: even the starting salaries of university graduates - even with better final grades in the same qualification - are 8.7% lower than for men, a difference that increases to up to 20% within a few years ( Wüst, Burkart, 2010).
  • Lumping all dual training occupations into one pot is just as short-sighted as an undifferentiated look at academic degrees. The difference in earnings between academic degrees in the MINT subjects (FH and Uni) is 24% higher than that of other academic subjects (Klös, Plünnecke 2013, 4).
  • When looking retrospectively at the data, it is often forgotten that an academic education offered earlier birth cohorts more opportunities for a management position and associated leaps in income. For example, those who decided to study after school in 1980 were only competing with 19.9% ​​of those in their cohort who were academically qualified (Destatis 2014); in 2013 the rate of first-year students was 57.5% (BMBF 2014, 297). An academic degree alone is unlikely to give this cohort comparable competitive advantages for reaching a management position in later working life.

So there are differences, higher educational qualifications usually lead to higher qualification premiums. The above-mentioned differences in income from one qualification level to another are probably also felt by many to be appropriate. They have little to do with the - especially media - representation of the differences between the two extremes. The fact that these are at the center of the scientific and public debate conveys - consciously or unconsciously dramatizing - an objectively unjustified upgrading of university degrees compared to dual vocational training due to the data used as evidence.

BMBF (2014). Vocational training report 2014. Bonn.
Destatis (2013). Universities at a glance. Edition 2013. Wiesbaden.
Destatis (2014). Education and culture. Non-monetary university statistics key figures. 1980 to 2012. (No. Fachserie 11). Wiesbaden: Federal Statistical Office.
DGB (2014). Training report 2014. Berlin: DGB.
Hall, Anja, & Krekel, Elisabeth M. (2014). Successful at work? A comparison of dual and school-based training (2/2014). Bonn: Federal Institute for Vocational Training.
Klös, Hans-Peter, & Plünnecke, Axel (2013). Demand for skilled workers in Germany: complementarity between professional and academic training. Ifo express service, 66(23), 6–11.
Middendorf, Elke, Apolinarski, Beate, Poskowsky, Jonas, Kandulla, M., & Netz, Nicolai (2013). The economic and social situation of students in the Federal Republic of Germany in 2009. 19th social survey of the German Student Union carried out by HIS Hochschul-Informations-System. Bonn, Berlin: BMBF.
Möller, Joachim (2013). So far no signs of over-academicization. Ifo express service, 66(23), 11–15.
Schmillen, Achim, & Stüber, Heiko (2014). Education pays off for a lifetime (No. 1/2014). Nuremberg: IAB.
Wüst, Kirsten, & Burkart, Brigitte (2010). How did we deserve this? Less salary with better performance-jobs study. WSI announcements, 63(6), 306–313.