Credential inflation leads to mass ghost-writing

As students value higher education for credentials instead of knowledge, ghostwriting becomes a lucrative business.

Academic inflation explains the fact that an ever-increasing amount of people have advanced degrees. According to the US Census Bureau, over one-third of Americans over the age of 25 have a college degree or higher. Ninety percent of Americans now have a high school degree. In 1940, fewer than 25 percent of Americans had completed at least four years of high school, and the number of people with any university certification was less than five percent. Similar numbers can be observed in Europe.

Since the year 2000, rising returns to education have attracted young school-leavers who reason that higher qualifications will ensure a better income. A low unemployment rate among academics also reinforces the trend toward going to college. Most of all, governments subsidize higher education to varying levels. For many Americans, studying means signing up for crippling student debt. In Europe, many students benefit from publicly funded universities, meaning that the only personal expense incurred is their own time.

In 2014, the average of all EU member states showed a public expenditure of between one and 1.5 percent of GDP in higher education.

This has inevitably led to academic inflation, which itself results in credential inflation. Credentialism shifts the employers’ focus when it comes to the required minimum level of education necessary to perform a certain job. This isn’t news to most people: Jobs that required a high school diploma 20 years ago now call for a bachelor’s degree. A 2014 report found that existing secretaries and assistants only had a BA certification rate of 19 percent, but 65 percent of job postings for those same roles now require a BA.

This is a credentials gap of 46 percent. Job sectors with comparable gaps are landscapers, clerks, log graders, scalers, plasterers, fish/poultry/meat trimmers, production supervisors, chemical or gas plant operators, captains, mates, ship engineers, pilots of water vessels, and all types of transportation workers. A credentials gap that has changed little or to no degree includes interviewers, computer operators, brokerage clerks, travel agents, real estate agents, brokers, insurance sales agents, railroad and transit police, radiologic technologists, library technicians, health educators, and community service managers.

The credential inflation is therefore real but doesn’t apply to all types of employment. Regardless of that distinction, going to college is considered to be a safe bet.

Another common point of agreement seems to be that it is more important to acquire certification than to learn an actual skill. Professor Bryan Caplan, in his lecture “The Case Against Education,” compares this to being stranded on a deserted island: you would choose boat-making skills over a boat-making diploma. In the real world, the opposite is the case: you would prefer a degree from Oxford University over the knowledge provided by Oxford because, though useful, it wouldn’t grant you the recognition necessary to your professional life.

For scientific and mechanical degrees, such as engineering or nuclear physics, using ghostwritten work is less useful. Whether or not you’re able to build a functional and stable bridge is something that can be tested in the real world. Fields of study such as international relations, political science, economics, or history often are immune to such black and white tests.

A simple online search will pull up hundreds of websites that facilitate ghostwriting services. In most cases, the system works like a broker, matching a writer with a student in need of academic work. Others operate with an in-house team of experienced writers.

Here’s an example:

Screenshot 2019-06-16 at 18.29.45

This website lets you choose the type of work you’d like to be completed, ranging from high school papers to PhD theses. Depending on how close you file your order to the deadline, the price per page ranges between $7.50 and $21.

Screenshot 2019-06-16 at 18.29.30Screenshot 2019-06-16 at 18.29.59

The site also has everything your ordinary company would have, from discount codes for signing up to testimonials. One client writes:

I never thought it could be possible to order a great thesis from an online writing service.

Quantifying the phenomenon is difficult. The websites protect the integrity of the customers, and most writers aren’t very forthcoming about their identity, either. All we have are anonymous op-eds and a limited amount of polling. In 2010, one anonymous writer confessed to having penned more than 5,000 pages of scholarly work through one of these platforms. The Conversation claims that during a conference on plagiarism in the Czech Republic in 2015,

one speaker revealed that up to 22% of students in some Australian undergraduate programs had admitted to buying or intending to buy assignments on the Internet.

An anonymous lecturer in New Zealand, where ghostwriting is considered to be a form of fraud and is therefore illegal, says that half of the international students in his/her class fail as a result of cheating. Universities in New Zealand have been on the defense against accusations that they let cheating and ghostwriting slide in order to cash in on international students’ tuition costs. In Russia, both the Education Ministry and its Higher Attestation Commission turned down requests for interviews with Radio Free Europe, which was investigating the prevalence of ghostwriting in the country.

Just last year, 46 vice-chancellors and heads of higher education bodies wrote to then-universities minister Sam Gyimah, calling for a ban on essay writing companies. This would be a different approach than a full-scale crackdown on the students making use of the services.

A student who is determined to take the easy road to get his or her degree won’t be intimidated by either a ban on essay writing companies (which would simply go dark online and find new ways to sell the same product) or a ban on ghostwriting itself, which is nearly impossible to prove. Ghostwriting is a result of credential inflation. The simple truth is that students are disinterested in their studies because they’ve only chosen them in order to get a degree.

Governments around the world should get out of the business of incentivizing higher education, thereby helping to close the credential gap seen in the employment market.

Oh, and just for the sake of clarity: this article was not ghostwritten.


This article was first published by the Foundation for Economic Education.

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About Bill Wirtz

My name is Bill, I'm from Luxembourg and I write about the virtues of a free society. I favour individual and economic freedom and I believe in the capabilities people can develop when they have to take their own responsibilities.

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