By John Lawrence
The American mythology that getting a good job requires a college degree is turning out to be a hollow promise, a mythology devoid of any connection to reality. Today’s college graduates are being weighed down with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt, and many of them are either unemployed or working in jobs that don’t require a college degree.
A recent study has shown that half of recent college graduates can’t find jobs. Those who graduated since 2009 are three times more likely to not have found a full-time job than those from the classes of 2006 through 2008. Of those who did find a job, the study indicates that 43 percent had jobs that didn’t require a college degree. Sure the top 10% will get jobs right out of college, but for everyone else disappointment in the job search abounds. Even recent PhDs are facing stiff competition for fewer available jobs, and many of them end up driving taxis for a living.
At the same time that college graduates are not finding work, there are 3.7 million job openings, but these are the kinds of jobs college graduates aren’t equipped to do. They require technical or vocational school training not the sitting in class and passing tests experience of most college graduates. As President Obama mentioned in his State of the Union speech, Germany prepares high school graduates with the training necessary to get an actual job instead of directing everyone to go to college. High school graduates in Germany have the equivalent of a techniocal degree from an American community college.
Despite the fact that Microsoft founder Bill Gates is a college dropout, Apple’s founder Steve Jobs was a college dropout and Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg is a college dropout (all became billionaires by the way), Americans have been sold a bill of goods that a college degree is necessaary for the good life.
This hasn’t panned out for Serena Whitecotton, however. Since graduating last May with a grade-point average of 3.5, experience working at her school newspaper and a degree in communications from California State University at Fullerton, Whitecotton said she has applied for more than 400 journalism and public relations jobs. For her efforts, she has been granted 10 interviews that haven’t led to a single job offer. She still lives at home and has been unable to find work since her internship ended in November.
America has set up a class system whereby you are a second class citizen if you don’t graduate from college. Increasingly though the reality is that there is not much of a connection between a college degree and finding a good job, and American high schools are not preparing high school graduates for entering the work force directly after high school.
In a recent Dan Rather report about the German job machine, Rather interviewed young German workers and asked them if they had any regrets about not going to college. One young German girl said no, her job was so interestimg that she could not imagine going to university and sitting in a class all day. “It would be too boring for me.”
The fact of the matter is that the American educational system graduates students who have the capacity for sitting there and being bored without complaining for years on end. They are capable test takers, but in many cases the material is soon forgotten after the test is taken. They graduate with few if any practical skills and no practical experience. German youth, on the other hand, can work half time in industry earning money and getting real world practical experience. And it doesn’t limit them if they want to go back to school later on and acquire more credentials and degrees.
The myth that with a college education you will be able to get a good paying job is being laid to rest. The social contract that, if you work hard, play by the rules and graduate college, there will be a job waiting for you is just a myth. Nowhere in the Constitution does it say anything about guaranteeing college graduates a job. That would be a social contract, and there ain’t no social contract.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that for the top ten fastest growing occupations for the years 2010 – 2020, only two will require a college degree. Four don’t even require a high school diploma! Two require an Associate’s Degree. Jeff Faux in his book, “The Servant Economy,” explains why he believes politicians of both parties working for America’s elite are systematically destroying the economic aspirations and quality of life for America’s middle class.
Jeff Faux: “The future — you walk into an Apple store and you think you’re looking at the future, and you are, but it’s not in the technology. It’s in all of those smart college educated kids with the T-shirts on who are working as retail clerks at $12 an hour or so. Now if you talk to them, they will say, well, I’m just here temporarily.”
But they may still be there well into their 30s. That’s what’s happening. When you consider the BLS projections about the jobs of the future, you realize that many of these kids, these 20-something’s thinking that they’re going to be on a professional track, are going to be 30-something’s with dead end jobs well into the future. The BLS projections give the lie to the much repeated myth that with a college education you will make more over your lifetime than you will with just a high school diploma.
Heck, where the jobs really are is for people without even a high school diploma. And the kids coming out of college that can’t find jobs, that is the non-elite kids from non-elite colleges, they are loaded down with student loan debt. They wind up in a dead end job barely able to make their payments to Bank of America and Wells Fargo.
For profit colleges are advertising on TV trying to reinforce on impressionable minds that you aren’t worth nothing without a college degree. And they will see to it that you are loaned as much money as you want with the consequence that whether or not you graduate with questionable skills, you will end up being indebted to Wall Street probably for the rest of your life, and that’s even before you get a mortgage if indeed that were even possible with so much student loan debt. They are reinforcing the American meme that college graduates will make much more in their lifetime than those with only a high school diploma. Those dubious statistics may have been true in the past but recent statistics suggest otherwise.
Dr. Robert Schwartz, a professor in the Harvard graduate school of education, says that youth unemployment rates in Germany are half those in the US.
The German system gets young people through high school with skills and credentials that allow them to get to work immediately. Schwartz doesn’t believe the mythology that everyone needs to go to a four year college in order to have a fair shot at the American dream. Today’s recent college graduates, instead of achieving the American Dream, are graduating into a hellish American dystopia of student loan debt, no job except one perhaps that didn’t require a college degree and resentment at having been led down the garden path to nowhere.
Schwartz believes the educational system should be focused on helping young people make smarter choices about what they study and to make those choices with one eye on where the economy is going and whether or not the skills that they are acquiring actually have value in the labor market. 25% of 25 year old college graduates are working in jobs that don’t even require a four year degree.
They could have gotten those jobs without even going to college. They were sold a bill of goods, and they and their parents have been snookered by the educational system which has effectively lobbied the public to make people feel inferior if they don’t have a college degree.
In San Diego wealthy La Jollans recently shot down a plan by the San Diego Unified School District to include more career and technical education in the curriculum. They thought it would detract from their college bound progeny.
“Take what happened this March in La Jolla, Calif. Parents rose in protest after the San Diego Unified School District proposed new high school graduation requirements mandating two years of career and technical education courses—or two to four courses. The district would have been the first in the nation to have such a mandate, experts believe. Parents circulated an online protest petition and school officials spent hours in a meeting to assure hundreds of parents that courses like computerized accounting, child development and website design could be in the best interest of all students.
“But afterwards, when parent leaders asked the crowd who favored the requirement, every single parent at the meeting voted against it.
“The parents, though, argued that college-bound students wouldn’t be helped by taking career and technical education classes. As one parent wrote on an online petition that garnered 1,326 signatures in 21 days: “If you force the children of … highly intelligent and very academic parents to take less-rigorous VoTech coursework, you will hurt their chances of admission to undergrad and grad school.”"
Recent studies have shown that people with two year technical degrees are starting to outearn four year college graduates. In the Florida class of 2009 those with two year technical degrees are outearning the average BA holder by $10,000. Nationally, roughly a third of those with two year technical degrees are outearning the average four year degree holder. The US needs to create some alternatives for young people other then going to college. One person in four drops out of high school and the biggest reason they give is that it was boring sitting in classrooms all day and there was no connection with the real world.
The educational system should help young people get over the hump of high school and get launched into the world of work thus helping them go from adolescence to adulthood. There are some programs starting up, for example at Greenville Technical College, where young people can combine school with on the job work experience and a paycheck so that after two years they have a degree, work experience and have earned a living. They can step right into a full time job. Later on if they so desire they can go on to further their academic experience and earn more credentials and skills.
This appeared at the San Diego Free Press.