Saturday, October 30, 2010

What 17 Million Americans Got from a College Degree.....

I've been in conversations recently discussing the real value of a college degree today - especially a liberal-arts degree. While holding a B.S. or a B.A. often puts a job seeking into a higher "category" of employment opportunities, i.e. those positions that require or prefer a "piece of paper" from a 4-year college or university, many people are starting to question whether or not their college education has been worthwhile in their career development. In my opinion, the reality of the situation is not that a college degree is no longer valuable, but that the market is so over-saturated with college-educated job seekers that a 4-year degree is starting to become what a high school diploma used to be - an expectation, not a perk.

As a professional college career counselor, I would argue that a college education is critically important for the development of a broad, transferable skill set including analytical ability, strong reading comprehension and writing skills, time management strategies, interpersonal and group communication, teamwork abilities, research skills, etc. - attributes that almost every employer would consider valuable. Additionally, a liberal arts education helps to expand one's worldview, broaden their understanding of various fields and disciplines, and lead to both personal and professional maturity and intellectual transformation. In other words, a bachelor's degree is helpful for development of a solid, well-rounded foundation for the future of a "mold-able" employee.

Having said that, I see young adults everyday who question the value of their Berkeley education. Not in the sense of the qualitative development I alluded to above, but in terms of its ability to land them a job. Simply put, a college degree alone does NOT guarantee anyone a job, not even one of the so-called "menial" jobs mentioned in the article below. Employers want to hire workers who possess the SKILLS and EXPERIENCE needed to bring value to their company and to produce results, and they want to see EVIDENCE of how they've used these skills in the past. Therefore, previous experience as an intern, a part-time employee, a volunteer, or a student-leader is just as valuable, if not more valuable, than the knowledge acquired in the classroom. Now of course this does vary by discipline, and some college graduates (i.e. engineers and nurses) still have a plethora of job opportunities compared to their peers with liberal arts degrees, but in general today's college students not only NEED to be rock stars in the classroom, but also MUST excel outside the classroom in their extracurricular activities and excel in a professional setting at the same time.

And this is both the #1 challenge my clients face, and the #1 concept I try to hit-home with every single college student who walks into my office.

Just my 2 the article below for a similar, yet more pessimistic, viewpoint.

What 17 Million Americans Got from a College Degree

Over 317,000 waiters and waitresses have college degrees (over 8,000 of them have doctoral or professional degrees), along with over 80,000 bartenders, and over 18,000 parking lot attendants. All told, some 17,000,000 Americans with college degrees are doing jobs that the BLS says require less than the skill levels associated with a bachelor’s degree.

That's from this piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education, via Jon Bischke on Twitter. More:

Putting issues of student abilities aside, the growing disconnect between labor market realities and the propaganda of higher-education apologists is causing more and more people to graduate and take menial jobs or no job at all. This is even true at the doctoral and professional level—there are 5,057 janitors in the U.S. with Ph.D.’s, other doctorates, or professional degrees.

For hundreds of thousands of Americans, spending four years and untold amounts of money (and debt?) gets you a job as a waiter, parking lot attendant, or janitor. Yet everyone from Barack Obama to Bill Gates keep pushing a college education as the way to secure one's economic future. That is a view that should be heavily qualified.

What do YOU think? Has your college degree served you well in your career?
Here's the complete chart:

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