Today’s College Graduates: In Debt and Unable to Find a Job

by on May 28, 2013 · 23 comments

in Civil Rights, Economy, Education


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.

college4This 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.

college3For 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.

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

tennysonclark May 28, 2013 at 4:09 pm

Students graduating with degrees in science, math, engineering, and to some degree, in education will get jobs. However, those with degrees in the post 1960’s myriad of soft subject degrees: communications, various ethnic/gender studies, etc will not, not easily anyway. A college degree today is no guarantee of anything but a college degree, many times a degree meaningless when trying to translate these soft subjects into validity in the work place. As a long ago college advisor advised: “do you want an education or a job.” I wanted both, Post graduation, I initially accepted jobs I was, supposedly “over qualified” for but those jobs got my feet into the right doors where I could observe who was getting promoted, who had autonomy, etc thereby offering me the opportunity to use my degree as just another tool in my career defining toolbox and not the final goal. I hired/fired for years. Kids walk in with some irrelevant degree expecting to hit near six figures -just isn’t gonna happen.


Seth May 29, 2013 at 8:51 am

Tennyson, perhaps your situation is different, but in my experience, most of the people who talk that way haven’t had the pleasure of looking for a job in the last 10-15 years. There are plenty of people of all ages who are educated and experienced in what were seen to be practical fields that are out of work. The scope of change in most industries has been unprecedented in the last generation, and globalization and technological shifts have displaced many a trained worker. For example, many architects and engineers are only employable so long as there are things that are actually being built, which no one has been doing for the last 6 years. Meanwhile, some of my least educated friends are making bank punching code for video game companies. Hats off to whoever saw Farmville as a better career path than architecture or civil engineering, but sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. Anyhow, some truth to what you are saying, but it’s also a pretty oversimplified way to look at it.


tennyson clark May 30, 2013 at 1:37 pm

Of course my comment, above, was an over-simplification. Most comments due to lack of space, etc are and this is in a publication that tends to significantly over-simplify. However, the basic fact remains that students today are being sold on the value of a college education as the straightway path to a lucrative career. Don’t misunderstand, I am grateful for my college and graduate degrees but these degrees helped me to learn critical thinking and historical perspective. On the surface the degrees had absolutely nothing to do with my chosen career path. Colleges and Universities need to enhance and refine the advice students receive in order that the expectation that comes with degree also becomes realistic to job availability in today’s working world. The statement you make, Seth, above: ..”scope of change in most industries has been unprecedented in the last generation ,,,many a trained worker (has) been displaced” validates this. And this will continue to occur, probably at an even greater rate than it has in the past. I could digress re: grade inflation, the dumbing down of America, Farmville, etc but that, while somewhat related, is a story for another day.


Cristy August 7, 2014 at 5:28 am

I have a degree in Middle Grades Math and Language Arts and I can’t find a teaching job. I was hired as a paraprofessional which doesn’t require a degree. It’s also temporary full time and comes with no benefits and pays only $1 more an hour than minimum wage. I’m also a veteran. I agree people shouldn’t major in Asian Studies and expect a job but I thought surely I’d be employable with a degree for teaching Math. The few job interviews I had were unsuccessful because I was beat out by people with 15 or 20 years experience!


Penny April 10, 2016 at 8:22 am

The same is true for people with High School maths teaching licenses, so don’t think it’s because it’s “only” middle school level maths. For the “Middle school” level maths teaching license, it wasn’t about having to know any actual Maths (because the level of maths at that age is minimal – only up to Basic algebra and Geometry at the most) but of having to be trained to deal with the behavioural problems of that age group: pre-teens and early teens. When I have been able to get any time at all dealing with that age group, I’ve found that the maths level was a no-brainer but getting the hyperactive little “Mexican jumping beans” to sit still and DO it, or do anything for that matter, was the hardest part. That’s why I went for the high school maths level teaching license, so I could teach actual Maths (and Physics, in any place where there wasn’t anyone licensed in Physics available). Now I’m going for my PhD in Mathematical Computational Physics so that I can avoid teaching high school and middle school altogether, because it’s become too political and jobs are too easy to lose for any and every little reason nowadays. It seems like these days if you want to teach the actual subject matter you have to qualify to do it at the college level because in America that’s the first time in their lives that most “kids” actually get any subject matter knowledge learned. (No one from public high schools takes Calculus-based Physics until college – high schools are too entrenched in bureaucratic bullshit to be able to keep anyone qualified to teach that, at the high school level.)

But at the same time, I just have to hope beyond all hope that when I do finish my PhD I will stop being treated by the job market as if I “look too stupid for Maths.” And maybe people will stop saying “can you even DO Maths” looking right at me, and rubbish like that.


RB April 11, 2016 at 8:17 am

In general, I agree that math and physics are less than rigorous in our public schools. And I agree that freshman physics is not calculus based.

But both calculus and college level AP physics are being offered at Point Loma High. My son was able to use his instruction in both subjects at PLHS to receive college credit and to graduate from Berkeley in Geophysics in three years. His instruction at PLHS included many college level classes and his instruction in calculus 1 & 2 with small class sizes was superior to that at the UC with a class size of 500 students. Also I would credit his science instruction at Correia Middle School and the SD county science fair as sparking his interest in science.

Good luck on your PhD. My son is also working on a PhD, in the mathematical, computational, and model side of marine science………


Hanson July 10, 2013 at 9:13 pm

When a student earns a college degree it proves two things; firstly – a student has intelligence; secondly he/she has successfully accomplished his/her goal. Businesses look for candidates who can support their employers in achieving their goals with minimal training; employers seek candidates with multiple skills who can help employers in generating revenues; employers seek candidates who are self starters, have initiatives and can take responsibilities with minimal training.

A good effective resume is a pre-requisite which should open corporate door. There is a saying that: “If you can’t sell yourself on paper – you would not be able to sell yourself in person”. Job hunting is all about self-marketing.


Desperate Penguin July 31, 2013 at 11:13 pm

I just graduated college two months ago and since then, I have been looking for a job. All the jobs I can find are sales position (ex. life insurance) and I don’t want those jobs especially after going through college for 4-5 years and investing so much money. I know there are many jobs for engineering and education majors, not Psychology majors like me. Most of the management jobs require at least 3-5 years prior experience in a particular field and I don’t have that many years of experience. I feel like I am a failure even after graduating with a 3.9 GPA. I was a Biology major for two years and I took all the pre-medical courses. Looks like I have to go back to college for a masters or Ph.D. I don’t regret going to college but I am not happy with it.


Shemurr August 7, 2013 at 10:14 pm

Honestly, I am in the same boat as you are along with the bulk of my companions who attended colleges all over the east coast, and at great schools I might add. I have a degree in Sociology and one of my closest friends, despite his immaculate transcript and Biology degree, did not get into the physical therapy program he so desired to get into. Instead he is taking a year off and going to reapply after getting some of his loans out of the way. My advice to you is no matter how frustrating this may be, try to find a job that will give you some real world experience. Move out if you haven’t and learn to fail and get back up again. If your ultimate goal is to achieve your Masters or PhD in psychology then go for it, but don’t do so if its not truly what you want to spend your life doing. I am as frustrated as the next guy when it comes to the daunting idea that I may have spent four years in the most spectacular way just to get train wrecked emotionally and finacially thereafter.. But I met amazing people who I plan to know for life, I have an education, and when I have children, or even when conversing during those cameo appearances of the elders in my life, I can pride myself in my degree. I’m job searching at the moment and am extremely frustrated at the fact that after completing college I finally discovered which career I desire to pursue, but I will say try to look on the bright side of things. Besides, this is the most opportune time to do something you’ve never done before.. And who knows, maybe the job that you finally decide to take for the longterm haul will be at a place you end up loving and beginning a career at. Take risk and be adventurous while you still can (and by can I mean before children and extra responsibility surmount). You’re not alone and we all start somewhere. How about applying to be a bank teller or a barista or just trying out one of those sales positions? There must be some job that you might have wanted to try out but never did. Try it! even if that means earning only a buck above minimum wage. You’ll get experience, you’ll be making some money, it’s not final, and you can always quit if you’re miserable.

Hoping for the best!


cole September 16, 2013 at 7:54 pm

This sounds eerily familiar as I am in a similar boat. I graduated over 2 months ago with degrees in History, Anthropology and Sociology. I graduated at the top (#1) of my class out of 40+ students from a respected university with all the honors, awards, memberships I could have possibly gotten. I thought I had it made. Now, after over 100 job applications, I have had a total of 2 interviews which have yet to lead anywhere. Debts are pilling up, collectors are calling and all I have to show for the sleepless nights and fights with my significant other is a piece of paper (several, actually) which no one cares about. It’s no longer good enough to have the degree, or to be in the top of your class. It takes connections. Some of my peers who graduated with me have accepted internships and graduate programme offers, while I can’t even seem to get a call back. All simply because they knew someone in a position to help them. I know this might be dismissed as some sort of idle whining or complaining, and although it might be, it is also symptomatic of something wrong within the educational system/ job system itself. From the time we enter the school system (actually before that even), we are told that to get a good job we must have a degree. This, however, is not true. As Bourdieu pointed out, the elite are the gatekeepers and they (actively and passively) decide who gets the job. Who you know matters. Especially when finding employment, and especially in a nation which tragically discounts the value of the so-called ‘soft sciences’ and an LAS education. Like you, I’ll probably take the GRE or GMAT and return to graduate school, while continuing to plunge myself into more debt. Honestly, what other choice is there though? The degree(s) has apparently over qualified me for positions I can hold and I seemingly do not have enough experience for jobs which do require a degree. R.I.P. Entry Level Positions, we hardly knew ye…


Penny April 10, 2016 at 8:30 am

This nation devalues the “hard sciences” as well. Even there, it’s “who you know” and if you were “connected” all along you would have been able to get in to the entry level WITHOUT the degree. These days you need no less than a PhD in the “hard” sciences to even get in to the ‘entry level’ in any lab. Either that, or like I said, “know someone.” Even with a Master’s I find myself asked for recent verifiable “work” experience and even if I do make it to an interview, all their questions are unfairly phrased “tell me a WORK related incident…” or “how did you get along with your co-WORKERS” and never will they allow a “classmate” story or “class project” example. If the interviewers are asking you about WORK experience examples of whatever and you start talking about CLASS related incidents instead – you didn’t get the job. Automatically. And something tells me that getting my PhD won’t change THAT aspect of trying to get a job…


tennyson August 1, 2013 at 5:11 am

Colleges and Universities are big business the product being students. The more students graduating the higher the ranking, the greater the funding. These institutions have very little concern as to whether you get a job. Unfortunately, you choose a field overrun with graduates and no college advisor is going to advise you of this; you getting a job is not the goal of an academic advisor.
To be effective in a management job requires life experience as well as academic credentials. Just as an example, I sold display advertising for a Seattle newspaper right out of college. That experience was while not more significant than my degree, was a real life experience opportunity greatly enabling me to become a highly successful manager.


jordan smith August 14, 2013 at 10:33 am

i graduated from the University of Michigan in 2012 with a degree in Economics. I took classes in accounting and finance as well. I have held 2 internships and 2 temporary positions over the last year but now I am back to being unemployed. I have not put a dime down towards moving out or paying off student loans until now.

I took 100 dollars and invested it into a company that helps me manage my money travel cheap get tax write offs and put money in my pocket. I started 2 months ago now and I will receive $600 tomorrow Aug 15th and every month afterwards. If your interested email me or check out my site or youtube presentation I will get you to $600 every month like me. There are no jobs unless you create your own.


tennyson August 15, 2013 at 11:59 am

A college graduate? Your punctuation is quite lacking!!! Tell you something about your employment status ????
Beware, this is more than likely a scam ………………..


jordan smith August 15, 2013 at 3:42 pm

I did not include the commas in the second paragraph because I was typing on my phone. I took temporary positions because they were available. I needed the experience either way. I have a couple more credits before I sit for the CPA exam. Accountants aren’t going anywhere so I am playing it safe. I have always wanted to work for myself though. I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit!

I created my own consulting LLC business with the help of Wake Up Now and I got my 600 today. You can believe me or not. Just do your research people.


Adive March 27, 2014 at 2:12 pm

We were all pushed into this box and have to find our own way out. It’s a very conflicting matter when we have a strong idea of what we wanted to become when starting our journey as adults, and the reality of how far away the dream actually is.


Spence March 28, 2014 at 7:56 pm

I think what most students don’t realize is that college really is a bubble sheltering us from reality. Once you leave you’re left grieving a loss. Leaving college and never returning is a loss and therefore depression is somewhat expected but the student doesn’t know this until it’s too late. Grieving is a must.


James June 30, 2014 at 9:53 pm

The “graduate from a good school and you got it made” myth has been perpetuated for decades. The truth is a BA in just about anything is fairly worthless, in terms of getting a job straight out of school, and has been that way for many years.

It’s a scam perpetuated by the banks, the education department and the schools. Education lenders knowingly loan money to these unwitting students, who are unable to pay back the loans after school due to inability to find work, thus enslaving the entire population to the banks for the rest of their lives. The schools get paid regardless, why should they care that it’s a myth? It’s a myth that helps encourage attendance, so it’s one they’re perfectly happy to support.

It’s not new though, I was duped by the same misinformation over 20 years ago. Personally I think all of us should get together and commit a mass act of civil disobedience – just don’t pay.


Aging Hippie July 1, 2014 at 10:31 am

Amazingly biased and slanted article.

“They require technical or vocational school training not the sitting in class and passing tests experience of most college graduates.”

In other words, the writer considers college useless in the “real world”.

Then he cites 3 individuals out of the millions who enroll in college as examples of why a degree is worthless.

I think either John Lawrence wasn’t able to finish college, or didn’t get the job or compensation he thought he would be entitled to on graduation. There’s a strong smell of sour grapes.


Aging Hippie July 1, 2014 at 10:35 am

“aren’t worth nothing”????

I think I see the issue with Mr. Lawrence’s personal career disappointment.


Cristy August 7, 2014 at 5:34 am

We were lied to our whole lives, that a college education was what you needed to have a good life. Now that the 1% has gutted ever good paying job and shipped it overseas, we’re being told that we should have known better! What a crock!


Gene December 19, 2014 at 10:01 am

I have a degree plus 6 years in my field, here is what they dont tell you.In 2009 I graduated went to work for the Goverment as a manager until November 2014 at which some bean counter deceided I didnt need my job anymore.(cut backs) Now I am over qualifield for most jobs and under educated for others, what a crock. But here is the truth, when you do get a job they tell you what to do and how to do it, no free thinking, then you become unemployed and they demand all these skills duh, for 6 years I did as prescribed by my superiors in my job duties, malible is what they want no free thinkers a robot, do what your told, how you are told. Then no fault of your own and you are unemployed starting all over again. Its a rigged game, I know I seen it and was forced to play along.


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