College isn’t worth the money for millions of Americans


OCALA, Fla., June 17, 2014 — The American economy is supposedly in recovery from the Great Recession. Employment has finally reached its level from before the crash.

If the economy is in recovery, things should be looking up for most people. But for those who represent our nation’s future, they are not.

In 2012, the Associated Press released a set of stark numbers illustrating the serious barriers of joblessness and underemployment faced by recent college graduates. Nearly 54 percent of new graduates — young men and women who a decade ago would have entered the ranks of the “yuppies” — cannot find full-time work that requires their college degree.

READ ALSO: Theology of Harry Potter: College students graduate with massive debt, useless degrees

A close look at the report accompanying these numbers reveals even more troubling news: Those who have recently graduated have better than even odds of working as “waiters, waitresses, bartenders and food-service helpers (rather) than as engineers, physicists, chemists, and mathematicians combined”.

Jordan Weissmann, an associate editor at The Atlantic, wrote that this is problematic for two central reasons. The first pertains to “a degree (being) more expensive than ever, and students … piling on debt to finance their educations.” Second, “when college graduates take a low-paid, low-skill job, they’re probably displacing a less educated worker. For every underemployed collefge degree holder, there’s a decent chance someone with just a high school diploma is out of work entirely.”

With student loans crippling a generation and unresolved angst about the availability of professional employment during the years ahead, it should come as no surprise that, according to a 2011 poll conducted by the Pew Research Center, 57 percent of Americans feel that college is not a good value.

Census data show that the total of those under the age of 25 holding a bachelor’s degree has risen 38 percent since 2000. Unfortunately, the number of jobs suitable for this new demographic has not kept pace. In fact, white collar wages decreased considerably over the last decade.

READ ALSO: The Higher Education bubble – College degrees are still worth the time and money

Practical skills and knowledge need to be emphasized over an impressive-looking sheet of paper that costs, at the low end, as much as a new sports car, and at the high end, a posh condominium.

One can discover many great things in college, but without marketable skills, what good is the new graduate to a human resources officer in need of someone who can hit the ground running?

On-the-job training, especially for those holding post-secondary degrees, can be both tedious and expensive. While a high school diploma is simply not enough to survive, let alone thrive, in the modern business world, none should be so naive as to believe that an undergraduate or graduate degree holds all of the answers.

The emerging American economy is clearly more competitive than it has been during any other generation. Perhaps many of those coming of age will learn that the educational route followed by their parents or older siblings is, in terms of dollars and cents, not worth pursuing.

If we want to avoid plunging the next generation of students into an ocean of debt with poor job prospects, then we need to reconsider post-secondary education. Career diplomas, technical certificates, and directly utilizable associate’s degrees may experience a surge of popularity not too far down the line.

That cannot come a moment too soon.

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  • Joseph Biten

    Is there anything prudent, just, or virtuous about $17 trillion in central government debt?