About a year ago I wrote about education inflation. A year later, I’ve graduated undergrad, started two jobs, and found an apartment. I’ve also watched a number of my friends in the same “fling-yourself-out-into-the-world” circuit, and so my viewpoint has definitely refined.
A year ago, I was thinking about the nature of my education, and now I’m really just worried about getting a job, and so is everybody else I know – I’m finding that one thing that demonstrates the inflation of higher education is the fact that young graduates right now are facing 50% un- or under-employment.
We (collective college graduates, that is) are presented, upon getting off the bus singing “NYC” from that one Broadway show, with a dismal job market for recent grads. We are also presented with loan payments, apartments that require us to earn triple their rent to even apply there, and “entry level” job lists full of positions that require 5 years of experience.
Bachelors’ degrees mean less to employers, and there are two possible reasons for this: either their prevalence simply means that BAs and BSs are less of a distinction than they used to be, or employers find that Bachelors’ degrees don’t really ensure quality work. This second reason explains why employers are requiring more and more experience for “entry-level” jobs; bachelor’s degrees used to be enough to indicate an applicant’s competency; now, employers don’t want to risk hiring any new college grad who hasn’t proven him/herself in the workforce first.This traps recent college grads with little-to-no full time experience in a rather depressing catch-22. Half of us are taking jobs that don’t pay enough or are in fields unrelated to our major; a full quarter of us are working for free to get experience. A third of us go back to school after trying to enter the work force with just a bachelors’ degree. A confirmed1 94% of us consume triple the amount of ice cream than we did a year ago.
In terms of status in the work force, bachelors’ degrees have become the equivalent to what a high school education used to be. In terms of time and money, however, bachelors’ degrees are painfully different – instead of entering the workforce at 18 with generalized competence, college grads are old enough to want permanent homes, long-term relationships, and career-based jobs, but are entering the workforce equipped with almost nothing to achieve those goals.
I’m not sure what’s going to happen, but this is a problem that needs to self-correct (if you want to be all Adam Smith about it). Many degrees are now including internships as part of their requirements, and it seems to me that (perhaps even more significantly) nervous mothers talk about them to sullen college students at a higher rate. Maybe the undergraduate degree will become more like a vocational school, in that sense, or a stepping stone to graduate school for those inclined towards academia. It seems less likely that students will find more success trying to get four years of experience, starting from the bottom up out of high school, but it’s a possibility.
What’s more, unemployment yields depression and lowered self-efficacy. Because so many of the unemployed population are young, this means that a huge portion of the emerging workforce and maturing economic leaders which will have debilitating effects on the US as a whole in the near and distant future.
Society as a whole is suffering and will continue to suffer from education inflation, as more overeducated students with little actual experience are flung into a floundering economy.
1Not really confirmed