Many people are attending college – or sending their kids – out of fear that as bad as job prospects are with a degree, they?re far worse without one. Various studies and surveys support that conclusion, and I think that you?re still better off having a degree than not, at least in the long run.
But a college degree is no longer a guarantee of any sort. Sure, we still hear stories of people landing cushy jobs right out of college, at least in certain highly desirable majors. But for many more, the degree seems to be more of a minimum requirement to land some sort of minimal job.
An article appearing in the The New York Times supports this outcome. In It Takes a B.A. to Find a Job as a File Clerk, it is reported that a college degree has become the equivalent of what a high school diploma used to be – and the minimum requirement for even entry level jobs. The article says that college degrees are now required for jobs as receptionists, administrative assistants, file clerks and cargo agents.
The article quotes experts who say that employers are requiring degrees for job classifications that traditionally needed no more than a high school diploma or GED. And the reason that they?re doing it? Because they can!
College graduates are no longer in short supply, a fact that could dim future prospects even further. This may require a very different way of approaching a college education going forward.
It?s a long way up from entry level
There is a fundamental problem in having a college degree that only lands you in an entry-level job. The original purpose of a college degree was to enable the holder to bypass the entry-level completely! It was a credential that allowed you to fast-forward your career by starting somewhere in the middle and working your way up from there.
This is more important than most people realize. If you start in an entry-level position ? such as a receptionist or clerk ? it can be a long, long climb just to get to the middle – that place where a college degree used to land you at the start.
If that is the case, it could take you several years after graduating before you?re even earning a living wage, let alone holding a career type position. You may even get typecast as a low-level employee – after all, promoting from within is another fast-disappearing feature of the 21st Century job market.
How long will it be before a B.A. isn?t enough?
This is the next logical question to ask, though it?s definitely one that makes us feel uncomfortable. Will getting a job eventually require a graduate degree? It?s no longer a ridiculous question.
The main reason why you need a B.A. just to get an entry level job is because there simply aren?t as many jobs as there used to be. Students and parents feel that the way to respond is by increasing qualifications. But there is a difference between a qualification – or credential – and a skill set. The latter is what employers are now seeking in job candidates, but they?re not always what graduates actually have.
Adding another degree to your resume probably won?t improve your chances of landing a good job. If a B.A. won?t do it now, it?s just a question of time before a graduate degree won?t work either. And in the meantime, a graduate degree also runs the risk of having you classified as over-qualified!
Is a $30,000 job worth a six figure education – and debt
None of this would be nearly as concerning if most of what it meant was that your career path would simply take a little bit longer. But students are now paying six figures for an education, and often graduating with a six-figure debt. If the best a graduate can do is a job paying around $30,000, it will take an incredibly long period of time to recover the investment in his or her education, not to mention the debt burden that will be carried conceivably into middle-age – if it can even be serviced on an entry level income.
The high cost of an increasingly marginal-return investment in education should no longer be entered blindly. Like every other investment we could conceivably make, we need to ask how much we are willing to invest in a college education.
The fact that this question was a ?no-brainer? 20 or 30 years ago is completely irrelevant today. We are in an entirely new paradigm as far as a college education goes. We need to very seriously consider if the $100,000 to $200,000 (or more) that will be spent on a college education, might be better invested somewhere else.
Your major matters more than ever
The parallel issue comes up in the form of the chosen major. This is a decision that can no longer be taken lightly either. A major in a traditionally strong field, such as engineering, IT, and accounting, can still provide solid employment prospects. But at the opposite of the spectrum, a major in history, sociology, or English literature, is quite likely to land the graduate in the undesirable position of having a combination of a six-figure student loan debt and dim employment prospects.
Time to consider the alternatives
I realize that this idea is controversial, but given the cost of getting a college education, the record levels of debt that are being incurred to pay for it, and the increasingly dicey employment prospects, it?s probably past time for students and their parents to consider alternatives to getting a college education. More broadly, it?s even time to re-examine the cost effectiveness of a college education in a middle-class family.
Since a college education now routinely costs well into six figures, it is possible that the return on an investment of that size may be more generous outside the college norm.
Some possibilities include:
- Attending a trade school or entering an apprenticeship program ? plumbers, electricians, mechanics, and other trades are always in demand because things are always breaking.
- Investing the money in a well-diversified investment portfolio.
- Investing the money in income producing real estate.
- Starting a business.
- Building work experience in lieu of a degree.
There?s a bonus here too ? most of the ideas above cost substantially less than a college education. For that reason, you?ll be able to combine two or three ideas, which would also improve the likelihood of success.
For example, the person who decides not to go to college could build work experience and use some of the money that would be spent for college to begin a well diversified investment portfolio. He or she may even decide to attend trade school on a part-time basis. This would create three potential opportunities, the combination of which might produce a brighter future than a college degree would ? but at a fraction of the cost.
What are your thoughts about a young person going to college? Do you think that the cost ? and the decline in employment opportunities ? should cause us to rethink the whole idea?