Some parents and high school graduates are questioning the value of a college education these days, and for good reason.
I was watching a TV commercial recently for a retail company that isn’t known for their princely pay or benefits.
The commercial featured shiny-faced grads of the University of Southern California and Southern Methodist University, two private and very expensive universities.
The annual cost to attend USC, including tuition, fees and housing, is about $50,000. After four years, a minimum of $200,000 has been shelled out. Graduates would have to work at the retail company for a lifetime to make a dent in their mountainous college debt.
The harsh reality is that today’s college graduates are the victims of a generation of job outsourcing, thousands of non-immigrant visas, illegal immigrants working in the underground economy and deferred action for childhood arrivals. Each of those immigration-related job killers has undermined young Americans’ futures.
Graduates’ outlooks are so grim that college administrators worry that students and their parents may conclude that a university education isn’t worth its very high and always increasing tuition. Before they commit, applicants demand to know how many Fortune 500 companies recruit on campus and how many undergraduates are accepted into medical or law school.
The common parlance to describe college students’ plight is “over-educated and under-employed.” And a report from the Center for College Affordability and Productivity concluded that many college-educated Americans have jobs that aren’t worth the price of their degree. No wonder, according to the Census Bureau, three in 10 young adults still live at home, the highest level since the 1950s.
Of 41.7 million working college graduates in 2010, 48 percent work in jobs that require less than a bachelor’s degree, and 38 percent of those polled didn’t even need high school diplomas, according to report authors Richard Vedder, Jonathan Robe and Christopher Denhart. In their opinion, the United States could be over-educating its citizens and wasting taxpayer money on producing graduates the nation’s economy doesn’t need.
In 2010, 39.3 percent of adults between the age 25 and 34 had a post-secondary degree, up from 38.8 percent in 2009. While the rate has inched up steadily since 2008, underemployment has kept pace. Vedder’s gloomy forecast is that the number of college grads will grow by 19 million between 2010 and 2020, while the number of jobs requiring advanced education is expected to grow by less than 7 million.
Complicating matters, in June 2012 the White House announced that it would offer what it called deferred action for childhood arrivals — the young children of illegal immigrants allegedly brought to the United States under circumstances beyond their control. Many of these deferred action recipients will compete head-to-head with already struggling American students. Adding to deferred action, Congress is furiously working on comprehensive immigration reform that would issue 11 million work permits to previously unemployable aliens (because of their immigration status) currently living in the U.S. — another nail in young Americans’ work prospects. On top of that, the legislation proposes to issue an additional 200,000 visas to unskilled workers.
Vedder warned that those who think a degree will lead to a good, middle class life should adjust their expectations downward. He said: “There’s a good chance you could end up being a bartender.”
Joe Guzzardi retired from the Lodi Unified School District in 2008. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.