The American college dream – time to wake up

The American college dream – time to wake up

Notwithstanding the claims of the president, it may be time to relegate the rationale for heading straight for college after high school into the same mental dust bin as the other great lies your parents told you – right along with Peter Cottontail.

In 2008, President Obama announced his intention to raise the number of college graduates from 40 percent to 60 percent, a pledge he stands by today.

He stated his reasons during his first State of the Union Address when he said, “These education policies will open the doors of opportunity.” In other words, the usual myths: income potential is guaranteed with a college education; the chances for consistent employment are better; you’ll be smarter and happier.

Except none of that is necessarily true.

According to a report released a year ago from the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, close to half (48 percent) of college graduates are doing work that does not require a bachelor’s degree, and 37 percent (over one-third) are employed in jobs that only require a high school diploma.

Another study, published by the Economic Policy Institute just this month, reported that hourly wages for college graduates, adjusted for inflation has dropped by 6.9 percent since 2007 – that’s close to half a point per year.

As far as job security is concerned, during the recession, those who struggled through four years of lectures, discussions, and student projects at institutes of higher education did not fare so well once they entered the labor force.

Research by the Economic Policy Institute indicates that unemployment among college graduates surpassed that of high school non-graduates in 2002 for those above the age of 25.

You would think that the president or at least some member of his staff would read these studies.

The cause for these affronts to conventional wisdom is simple: supply and demand. As stated succinctly in the CCAP review, “The basic problem is that the stock of college graduates is far greater than the number of jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree or more.”

The difference? Thirteen million!

And, based on figures from the U.S. Bureaus of the Census, Labor Statistics, that discrepancy will continue. Six years from now there will be approximately 19 million college graduates with less than 7 million jobs demanding a bachelor’s or better.

Of the 30 jobs expected to demand the most workers by the end of this decade, only seven will necessitate any postsecondary education whatsoever and only four will require a sheepskin.

These numbers belie the president’s description in his 2012 state of the union address of higher education as “an economic imperative,” a comment meant as a prelude to his “Blueprint for Keeping College Affordable and Within Reach for All Americans” initiative, to the tune of $1 billion dollars.

Meanwhile, enrollment is accelerating: numbers from the National Center for Educational Statistics show an increase of 32 percent – 15.9 million to 21 million from 2001 to 2011, most of that for full time students, while the immediate transition for those entering right after high school has shot up to 68 percent since 1975.

Of course, based on recent trends, less than 60 percent these candidates will earn a diploma.

All of them – completers or not – will be struggling to pay off student debt, currently estimated to average $27,000 per household, while those that finish will only be slightly better off than their peers as far as job prospects are concerned.

President Obama is correct. There is an imperative to assist young adults but that end will not be accomplished by advocating long standing myths that are controverted by facts. It will be accomplished by straight talk about future prospects and budgeting priorities that align with reality.

Next time: What high schools need to do, beyond college preparation, to prepare all students, including those with disabilities, for adulthood.

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