no college degree? no options? no future? no sh*t

No, I’m not shilling for TCI or some other for-profit (those commercials sure get annoying while watching Maury or Steve Wilkos though)…

A startling article from last week revealed some alarming statistics highlighting just how bleak college grads and dropouts’ job prospects are. Consider this:

For the first time in history, the number of jobless workers age 25 and up who have attended some college now exceeds the ranks of those who settled for a high school diploma or less.

(Emphasis mine.)

It seems the only real guarantee for grads and dropouts (yes, grads and dropouts mentioned in the same sentence – ponder that) is student loan debt, the total of which now exceeds total credit card debt in the U.S.

Speaking of debt, consider this:

  • Average student loan debt: $25,000 to $28,700 (with 10% owing $50,000 or more),
  • Roughly 67% of college grads in debt; does not include college dropouts saddled with same,
  • Only 51% of grads between 2009-2011 found work within 12 months of graduating; however, of those…
  • …43% of them found jobs below their skill-level (i.e. jobs outside their field or that didn’t require degrees), and
  • Median starting salary for grads since 2009: $27,000/year (down $3,000 over class of ’06/’07 grads).

(Data from articles from the Morris Daily Herald and the Huffington Post.)

So what do all these numbers mean for current and future graduating classes? Well, according to Robert Reich:

You’re f*cked.

Well, not exactly. But you won’t have it easy.

While heavy loan debt and piss-poor job prospects muddy the field for college grads, the numbers highlight another problem – underemployment. As easily seen, many students settle for menial work or work outside their field of study due to the difficulty of finding work.

Indeed, even yours truly is feeling the one-two pinch (yes, pinch) of loan debt and underemployment (though I love what I do).

So with most college grads and dropouts stuck in loan debt hell or un(der)employment hell, one question comes to mind:

What the hell can we do about this?

Unfortunately, the answer is not so simple.

First, an increasing number of companies require bachelor’s (or higher-level) degrees for positions that don’t necessarily need bachelor’s (or higher-level) skill. Hence, for many, college is the only way to get the proverbial foot in the door. Second, many jobs also require years’ worth of experience (even for menial jobs); even openings advertised as “entry-level” require a year (or even as many as five years) experience! At that rate, you may as well create a new tier of job openings called “pre-entry level!”

That many college grads face underemployment should thus be unsurprising.

Now, as people aren’t born with a four-year degree and years of experience, the next-best bet for experience is an internship. The catch – many internships also require enrollment in college!

Okay…

While it seems there’s no relief on the horizon, the student loan problem is at least being addressed. Front and center are student loan interest rates, specifically those of federal Stafford loans, now at 3.4%. They’re due to rise to the standard 6.8% this July; staving off the increase is something President Obama has fiercely advocated. However, measures to keep the low rates couldn’t pass the Senate due to party-line squabbling on how to fund the measure; with a $6 billion price tag, each side tried to get the other to sacrifice something to pay for it.

Take a guess at how well that ended.

Unfortunately for the jokers in Washington (and for the rest of us), the problem isn’t going away with lower rates. Even more unfortunate – the employment problem shows no sign of letting up.

Colleges aren’t blameless, either (and it ain’t just predatory for-profits). Tuition costs have risen sharply – higher than inflation, in fact; this cannot be overlooked when examining the student loan problem. Higher tuition + stagnant (or falling) wages = higher odds of student borrowing. Administrative bloat is also an issue, one that James Poulos of Forbes.com calls “an elite culture” that’s to blame for rising college costs.

A meager job market that is increasingly selective (due, perhaps, to the sheer number of job hunters), combined with some colleges becoming more selective (a recent New York Times article highlights its effect on demographics in the CUNY system), paints an ever-dreary portrait of the future for college grads.

At one point I stated that, as a solution to this problem, government should “bail out” the students; indeed, my estimation of such a bailout’s cost was comparable with that of the bank bailouts and stimulus of a few years ago. However, I now (partly) rescind my stance – mainly because the real problem for grads isn’t so much the debt as it is attaining meaningful employment.

Unfortunately, the politicos keep dancing around the issue and, as is often the case in Washington, have mired it in typical party-lines bullcrap that gets us no closer to resolving the issues. (Yes, issues plural.)

If the shenanigans persist, these collective issues will literally blow up in their faces – and all of us will have to deal with the fallout.

In spite of all these things, however, there is yet hope for our college grads. However, such hope requires much initiative from the students; taking time to write resumes and (custom!) cover letters for each job opportunity, broadening the job search, networking (i.e. at career fairs), etc. The fact is that opportunities do exist – we grads simply have to find them:

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. (Matthew 7:7 NKJV)

It ain’t easy – take it from me; my search continues despite graduating with a Master of Engineering degree nearly a year ago (heh – right in line with the 12-month average time-to-job; mayhap my time is coming soon!). But the truth is opportunities will rarely come to us; if we don’t make ourselves known to employers we will remain unknown – and it’s much more difficult to find anything meaningful if we become just another face in an ever-growing crowd.

2 thoughts on “no college degree? no options? no future? no sh*t

    1. While I certainly understand the frustration (especially given several factors like employers requiring college when not needed, not everyone being capable of handling college-level work, and the student loan debt problem), I wouldn’t necessarily call college pointless…

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