Seongho Lee, a professor of education at Chung-Ang University, criticizes what he calls "college education inflation." Not all students are suited for college, he says, and across institutions, their experience can be inconsistent. "It’s not higher education anymore," he says. "It’s just an extension of high school." And subpar institutions leave graduates ill prepared for the job market.
A 2013 study by McKinsey Global Institute, the economic-research arm of the international consulting firm, found that lifetime earnings for graduates of Korean private colleges were less than for workers with just a high-school diploma. In recent years, the unemployment rate for new graduates has topped 30 percent.
The part about earnings makes sense. I would expect that in a country that trains too few people for vocations you'll see higher earnings for people in vocational paths than people in lower-ranked universities.
Moreover, expanding access to higher education has not decreased the stakes of competition. If anything, it's raised the stakes:
Because a degree itself isn’t valuable currency, competition has heated up for admission to the handful of elite universities, most of which in Korea are public. Mr. Jho, the Fulbright scholar, says the scramble for limited places can begin in elementary school. Parents who have the money to give their children an edge spend as much as a sixth of their income on hagwon, or private cram schools. Those who cannot afford extra tutoring are at a disadvantage. "It’s a stratified system," says Mr. Jho. "It’s a system that is privileged for the middle and upper class."
This is a point that I made repeatedly in my blogging about Lani Guinier's Tyranny of the Meritocracy: You cannot easily get rid of competition. You can modulate it to a certain extent, but people are going to compete, one way or another. Credential inflation is real, and it escalates competition because it makes it harder to distinguish oneself.