The generation of Americans born between 1983 and 2003 has become pessimistic about their employment prospects. They were told that college would be the gateway to a bright future, and they believed it. More students have flooded American colleges and universities during this period than at any other time in history. However, once these students graduate, most of them have found it difficult to acquire the bright future they were promised. They have become disillusioned. If this higher education conundrum continues without solution, the next generation of college students will think twice before starting their college applications.
The statistics regarding employment for recent graduates vary but are all bleak. Writing for USA Today, Chuck Raasch reports that 9.4% of college grads under the age of 25 were unemployed, and 19.1% had taken jobs they were overqualified for. Other sources paint the picture as even more desperate. The Atlantic, for instance, reported that the “overqualified” percentage was actually 53% in April 2012.
Some students have opted to go on masters programs in order to stand out from their peers and find more lucrative employment. Yet even these academic achievers do not always find lucrative jobs waiting for them. Masters degrees in information science, English, Music, and Education typically result in salaries below $63,000 at mid-career, according to an article in Forbes. Law school graduates have difficulty even finding employment at all, whether in the law or not.
On the other hand, technical degrees carry enormous value. Masters degrees in technical fields, particularly in computer science, electrical engineering, and physics deliver some of the best-paying salaries in the market. U.S. News and World Report ranked the occupations of software developer, database administrator, web developer, and computer programmer in the top 10 occupations in 2012. All enjoy median incomes in the mid-$70,000s. Most of these jobs only require undergraduate degrees in computer science or a related discipline. Now prospective post-baccalaureate students, as well as would-be undergraduates, need to appraise the real value of their desired degree before opting to enroll.
Growth in the United States job market has centered on the Silicon Valley and tech firms, but other areas have stagnated and even declined. This fact need not be harmful. If colleges were able to keep pace with these unanticipated fluctuations in the workforce, then there would not be a problem. However, undergraduate institutions have failed to produce enough computer science grads, while over-producing graduates in other, more traditional disciplines.
Morley Winograd, who served as Executive Director of the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business Institute of Communication Technology for eight years, has compared this new generation of students to those who graduated in the Depression era. As reported by USA Today, Morley cautioned that: “…they have to find new ways to persevere. They just have assumed that everything that came before them was a mirage — that it was false, built on unsafe foundations.” In other words, today’s graduates are disillusioned with the United States’ system.
Better policy could help more graduates find employment quickly after they graduate. A number of options have been discussed in this regard. Giving tax breaks to new companies is one possibility, which would allow startups to hire more employees. Regardless of the policy, a solution needs to come quickly before more young people are affected.
Valerie regularly writes about issues surrounding higher education on the graduate school resource website http://www.