Thursday, May 19, 2011

Grim Future for Recent College Grads

In today's NYTimes, Outlook is Bleak Even For Recent College Graduates.

I liked this comment:

Education is the next bubble to pop. Anytime you have consumption masquerading as investment (especially when it is socially encouraged as the "smart thing to do"), you have the makings of a bubble.


"Sure, this house is a little more expensive than I can afford, but loans are cheap, and it will pay off in the end.... it's a good investment."


"Sure this degree is a little more expensive than I can afford, but loans are cheap, and it will pay off in the end... it's a good investment."

Except this time, it won't be the nest egg of retirees that gets crushed... it will be the futures of the young.


  1. PsychMom says:

    On this very thread...
    I've just finished reading two books that I want to suggest might interest the readers of this blog. One is by a Canadian professor here in Halifax, by the name of Laura Penny. Her book is called "More Money than Brains (Why School Sucks, College is Crap and Idiots think they're Right". There's more crude language than necessary but when she stops using it (and even when she does), she's opening up the realities of our current system of education, especially post secondary.

    The other is by John Taylor Gatto, another extreme perspective but he's so well read, you can't help but listen to the raving. The book is "Weapons of Mass Instruction". His dream is to see the end of forced schooling, but last night I read one of the final chapters which is a letter he had written to his granddaughter upon her beginning college.

    It's a huge trap we're baiting for our kids, by telling them that getting a college degree is the only way to be successful. Not only can they end up with crippling debt, they may not actually have much to show for it in the end. If they had taken all that money and travelled the world for 2 years, the contacts they would have made, and the experiences they would have gotten would have been worth far more.

  2. As a college professor and a parent - I will stand up and say that college is not necessary to be successful.

    College students get out of it what they put in. If they take initiative, act responsibly, and engage - they will be successful.

    There is a mistaken notion that everyone benefits from college. The students that don't want to be there do not benefit. Where our country is facing extreme shortages in skilled labor (tool and die makers, machinists, plumbers, electricians, etc.) - there are plenty of careers that can be lucrative and satisfying for which college is not necessary.

    I would be ok if our sons decided not to do college (surprised, perhaps, given our family's background). But, if not college - they will have to learn a trade.

    A good plumber far outstrips my earning potential, and didn't go to school for an extra 12 years for training. There are plenty of bad tradesmen out there, but a good one - now, there is some serious earning potential!

  3. I'm not ready to accept the idea that too many people are going to college. I can't disagree with anything PsychMom and K have said, and I hate that so many people can't afford college anymore without incurring crippling debts. But I do think that we will collectively pay a price if the rate of college attendance significantly decreases. Right now, college is just about the only place where young people experience the humanities in any real form. It is the only time when they are encouraged to think about life as something more than just absorbing force-fed knowledge (as in K-12) or making a living (as after college). I think our society benefited greatly from the fact that large numbers of people went through that experience, and that, as fewer people do, we can expect to live in a place that is less and less governed by humane values.

    Sure, college isn't right, or necessary, for everyone. But a lot of people would like to go and can't (or shouldn't) solely because of money. We are one of the most prosperous countries that ever existed, and we could do something about that problem if we chose to.

  4. The current collage world was created by the GI bill, a well off middle class, created in part by the New Deal,and jobs being here....all three are either gone or having their plug pulled at vigorously.

    It's unsustainable...and it became unsustainable the day collage loans went from being 2-3% to 29-30%... barrowing 25,000 (or there abouts.) at 30%?...times 4? I honestly don't know how , or at this point, why people are doing it. With no jobs at the end,( much less careers) it's not just serfdom, but pointless sefdom. imo

  5. PsychMom adds,

    I'm way too cynical for my own good but corporations are progressively taking over colleges and universities and the Humanities are getting left by the wayside. The demand to create workers and not just "egg heads" with no practical skills is increasingly choking out those Humanities. Colleges and universities are under tremendous pressure to produce workers, not stimulate the minds of the young.

    I agree with your premise, Chris, but Humanities are fading fast, and unless we're willing to let go of our individual greed, and see the greater good, the number of people taking liberal arts education will only drop.

  6. Anne and PsychMom -- Again, I can't disagree, but I think admitting defeat just worsens the problem. I don't think we have to resign ourselves to the least wealthy 80% of the population being increasingly squeezed and set against each other while the rich get richer.

    It does seem to me that a college education could be a much, much less expensive proposition if we just revised our idea of what it takes to be a college. There was a time when a college meant about six faculty members plus a building. Why don't some non-profit foundations (Quakers, where are you?) set up some minimalist colleges -- mostly faculty offices, classrooms, dorms, and some public spaces? Given that the other choice, for many, is no higher education at all, couldn't we live without the sports complexes, research laboratories, etc.? Maybe I'm just describing our existing community colleges, but I don't see why such a place should be considered a lower tier of education, especially given that many students in the higher tier take far more advantage of the sports complexes than the classrooms.

    Here's another idea: Raise taxes! And another: Stop spending trillions of dollars pursuing unnecessary and counterproductive wars on foreign countries!

    I think the GI Bill is one of the best things America ever did. Let's do something like it again -- and not just for GIs.

  7. PsychMom says:

    Yay to raising taxes...I'm all for it. And the small college idea is the same place I'm at too...because I want the same thing for younger kids. Learning centers for all ages.

    All that other glitz and glam is just not necessary for institutions that are supposed to be about learning.

    I think we're all on the same page, with varying levels of hope.

  8. Stop spending trillions of dollars pursuing unnecessary and counterproductive wars on foreign countries

    It would take a miracle to accomplish this since our greatest export, war, makes unimagined amounts of money for the top .999 running things ...and I'm not ruling out a miracle either, I'm depending on it.

    We are going to have to learn from each other for a time and I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing

    What we haven't discussed is the impact of the fall of Communism to all this. Once that happened and we were the only "Super Power" ... a major check and balance was lost. Our elite felt it had nothing to fear and its greed whent into hyper drive......and we we are