College Graduates and Jobs

According to the New York Times, more and more college graduates are unable to find jobs after graduation; those who do are being paid less than graduates who got their degrees before the recession.

The median starting salary for students graduating from four-year colleges in 2009 and 2010 was $27,000, down from $30,000 for those who entered the work force in 2006 to 2008, according to a study released on Wednesday by the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University. That is a decline of 10 percent, even before taking inflation into account.

Of course, these are the lucky ones — the graduates who found a job. Among the members of the class of 2010, just 56 percent had held at least one job by this spring, when the survey was conducted. That compares with 90 percent of graduates from the classes of 2006 and 2007. (Some have gone for further education or opted out of the labor force, while many are still pounding the pavement.)

From the sad stories of unemployed or underemployed college graduates in the article, most of them seem shocked that college didn’t lead to the riches and careers they were told awaited them once they had a diploma in their hands.

The value of a college degree—or at least the perceived value—is part of the problem. When most kids graduate from high school they’ve had at least a decade about the importance of college being drilled into their heads. Most graduate believing that if they want to make anything of their lives, they need a college degree. Trade school, post secondary certifications, or other educational paths are often scoffed at by “educators” even when those may be a good solution for many high school students.

While it’s certainly true that college can lead to higher or better paying jobs than those who don’t pursue a college education, the number of college graduates waiting tables, working as telemarketers, or performing other jobs that don’t require any education or training except a high school diploma is rising. Part of this due to the recession and the fact there are fewer jobs awaiting graduates. However, a bigger problem is that the market is flooded with college graduates who have degrees that are absolutely useless when it comes to getting jobs in the real world. Rubbing salt in the wounds is that many of these students graduated with mountains of debt.

College isn’t for everyone; college degrees aren’t for everyone. Instead of telling students that college is the only path to success, we need to let students know that there are many ways to make it in the world and that college is just one of many choices. Since the real world is often a better teacher than any classroom, many students might even be better off not going to college and seeing what the real world is like before deciding whether or not to pursue a college degree or another path.

Unfortunately the education industrial complex gets a lot of money from the status quo and is unlikely to change anytime soon. It’s probably to take a generation of debt-laden, pissed off graduates before any meaningful education reform is even discussed.