The truth is, there are few jobs out there for college graduates and the prospects aren't getting better:
While members of the class of 2014 have some cause to celebrate, they also know they are a few short months away from starting to pay down their share of the $1 trillion-plus student-loan debt.
The most shocking number of all is that only 17 percent of these soon-to-be grads have a job lined up, according to AfterCollege Inc., which crunches these numbers and also tries to help match employers with recent graduates.
Despite our being a year further along on the road to economic recovery, this year’s 17 percent is actually down from the class of 2013’s 20 percent who had a job lined up before graduating.
Most kids who go to college do so to get skills for work after graduation. It’s never going to be 100 percent or even 90 percent of graduates who have job offers waiting, but it shouldn’t be that 83 percent of seniors have nothing lined up, either — especially when 73 percent say they were actively looking for work.
Oddly, even 82 percent of supposedly more “marketable” majors (engineering, technology, math) were still empty-handed.
Some think the job situation will get better for college graduates as the economy gradually improves, but we're already five years post-recession and the economy still hasn't improved for many in the job market.
The reality is, the economy has changed such that fewer jobs for college graduates exist and that number is dwindling every year and greatly diminishing the value of a college degree:
Large numbers of college graduates can only find employment in jobs paying the minimum wage. Currently, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, 260,000 people with college or even professional degrees are so employed. Moreover, the percentage of college graduates who work in jobs that don’t require any advanced academic preparation (the “mal-employed”) has been rising for years, and now stands at 36 percent. If college degrees are becoming more valuable, why are so many graduates either unemployed or employed at low-paying jobs?
What jobs are being created these days?
The kind that don't - or shouldn't - require college degrees:
The BLS has a handy chart of the fastest-growing jobs in America (h/t Erica Grieder), and the vast majority are not the “knowledge economy” jobs we usually think of. In fact, this chart seems to prove things that we already know: the rising importance of the healthcare sector to the economy (especially with an aging population) and the transition of the economy to services, where “services” is not a euphemism for “computers” but, like, actual services.
So the list has your odd “Biomedical Engineers” (fancy!) and, at the bottom, your “Medical Scientists, Except Epidemiologists” (sorry epidemiologists!), but the vast majority of jobs are jobs like “Home Health Aides” and “Reinforcing Iron and Rebar Workers.”
A key point here: The jobs of the future are only “low skilled” if you define “low skilled” as not requiring college. Being a good carpenter (56% growth, Jesus is still with us) or, for that matter, a good medical secretary (41% growth), takes smarts (actual smarts, not just book smarts), hard work, and dedication.
Relatedly, the jobs of the future will be high-paying. It’s simply not true that all high-paying jobs require a college degree. It’s very very possible to make a very good living as a tradesman, because good tradesmen are–and always will be, unlike Fortran programmers and data entry clerks–in high demand.
“Helpers–Brickmasons, Blockmasons, Stonemasons, and Tile and Marble Setters” sounds like bottom-of-the-barrel work, but follow someone like Samuel-James Wilson, an award-winning bricklayer, on Twitter, or visit Guédelon Castle where contemporary tradesmen are building a 13th century castle with 13th century tools, to see that being a good bricklayer is as hard as being a good lawyer. Obviously I’ve been influenced by Shop Class as Soulcraft, which should be required reading for any discussion of the future of work and education.
And finally–and this is perhaps the most important thing–some jobs of the future only “require” college because we’re very dumb. Very few of those occupations require college in the sense that 90+% of people who pursue that occupation will benefit from having learned about it in college. But my guess would be that more than a few of these occupations “require” college in the sense that employers expect that applicants will have a BA. And this is our problem. A “Diagnostic Medical Sonographer” is a highly-skilled job that doesn’t require college training in the sense that you can learn everything you need to do the job in a manner of months. But many colleges offer programs to help you become a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer. And when you compare unemployment rates for college graduates and non-college graduates, you see why someone might want to go to college to become a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer even if it means taking on huge, unnecessary debt. And once there are enough college graduates who can become Diagnostic Medical Sonographers, you can see why employers would rationally toss out of the pile any resumes that don’t have a college degree on them.
This is something that we urgently need to fix, because we’re wasting ginormous amounts of money, time, and resources. The first step is to recognize what the actual jobs of the future are.
One problem is, college is a huge money-making industry - for the college themselves, of course, but also for the ancillary industries like the testing companies, the test prep companies, the banks (via the loans) and even the government (which also makes money from student loans.)
These entities all help to push college for all because they make a ton of money off of it.
Second problem is, we live in a culture that denigrates occupations that require people to work with their hands (farming, construction, etc.) and denigrates service occupations that are necessary to make things work right (medical secretaries, doormen, etc.)
What I think we are going to need to do in this so-called 21st Century global economy is re-order how we think about work, stop privileging finance and tech over everything else, start to re-think how we handle compensation for all jobs (both the overpaid ones, like finance and tech, as well as the underpaid ones, like service jobs) and re-do how we handle training so that apprenticeships and on-the-job training replace some of the so-called college programs out there.
Oh, and there are way too many colleges - especially these expensive second and third tier private schools that load students up with debt for diplomas that are barely worth the paper they're printed on (I'm looking at you, College of New Rochelle!)
Time to see these things go out of business and stop saddling students every year with debt.
I'm under no illusion that this will happen easily, without a fight or even, in the end, happen at all.
There's too much money to be made selling the "college dream" to as many as are willing to buy it.
But as more and more graduates find themselves slinging coffee at Starbuck's or working retail, there might be a natural movement away from reflexively saying every kid must go to college or else.