I wasn't a fan of this blog post on telling would-be grad students not to go to grad school, because I think it unfairly conflates giving realistic advice with victim-blaming. But I did like this quote:
"What, prey tell, are those would-be English PhDs supposed to do? Journalism? Ha! We know they can’t do law school! Publishing? Not even worth joking about. Secondary school teaching? Not now, after NCLB/Michele Rhee/budget cuts/TFA/Scott Walker have all had a go at teachers."
Not that long ago, it was generally agreed upon that if someone had a college degree and was even marginally able to get along in society, they'd be able to make a decent living. There was no guarantee of riches, but you'd be able to own a car, eventually buy a home (at least if you didn't live in New York), and have kids. Now, even The New York Times recognizes that only half of college grads are finding jobs that require a diploma.*
What about the traditional professions - law, medicine, clergy?
This morning, Inside Higher Ed reports on the dismal job market for law school graduates. The market for clergy is even worse -
two graduates for every position, although there are positions open because the churches are tiny and can't afford to pay anyone. Physicians are actually doing all right, although there are fewer rich-doctor positions than there were in the past.
You might say, in that case, forget college. Before you do that, look at this chart.
So you can be a doctor, and there are still jobs in the sciences. Of course, while it might work for any one person to go into those fields, they can hardly absorb the entire supply of unemployed and underemployed Americans.
In this environment, it might make as good economic sense as anything else for a young person in need of work to say, "I'm chucking it all and surfing in Bali." At least, that is, if they don't have student loans. Or, "I'm going to go Occupy Wall Street." **
We're in a new era of constant insecurity, so anyone who tells a young person, "It's your own fault for going into creative writing/law/whatever," should be whacked with a large stick and summarily stuffed into an anti-aging machine to be forced back to the age of 18. And if that's not enough to depress you, go here.
Something is going to have to give, but I don't know if it's going to be Occupy grown large, the education credential bubble bursting, or a crisis of consumer confidence.
* Let's ignore, for the moment, the shakiness of defining jobs that "require" a college degree, and let's just assume that jobs that ask for them actually do require skills learned in college.
** Except, interestingly, for this generation there doesn't seem to be the kind of generation gap that would fuel protest. That's a whole other other post.