I would love to include that questionnaire as my first day activities when classes begin in a few days. But, I won't--I cannot afford to drive away even more students than I currently do!
I could give those questions to any number of young people I come across. Like the young woman who works at the grocery store that I frequent.
I first met her a few years ago, when she started working there. Through small talk when she was scanning my purchases, I came to know that she was a student majoring in psychology at the local big university that is attached to a minor-league football team. Every time I was at her counter, I chatted with her--she was always bubbly and excited about college and the world, which made this tired old curmudgeon happy. When I asked her about career plans, she knew one thing: “I don’t want to become a lifer here.”
As she was getting close to graduation, more than a year ago now, she continued to have that excitement in her and carried out the typical American college student's plan to travel through Europe for a few days.
I still see her working at the same grocery store. Scanning groceries and bagging them. I don't know how she feels about it because I intentionally avoid going to her counter. I worry that I will ask her about life. I don't want to do that.
Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, whom I have cited plenty of times in this blog, have a new book that follows up on where their previous work ended. In this essay in the Chronicle, they are not optimistic about the long-term future of the typical college graduates including the likes of that grocery store checkout woman:
In terms of economic outcomes, two years after graduation 23 percent of those in the labor market were either unemployed or underemployed (working fewer than 20 hours per week or in jobs where the majority of workers had not completed even a year of college), and less than half had full-time jobs that paid $30,000 or more per year. They also were struggling to become independent: 24 percent were living at home with their parents, and 74 percent reported receiving continued financial assistance from parents.Their book is based on case studies, in which they track down some of the students they had interviewed for that previous book.
As colleges have sold themselves as economic-development vehicles, and their degrees as tickets to the middle class, the ethos of the marketplace has become their master, overshadowing their civic and intellectual purposes.To readers of this blog, and to anybody who has had the unfortunate experience of listening to me, these are not new issues at all. The tragedy is that despite all the mounting evidence, we continue to go about with higher education with more of the same. How unfortunate!
The tight embrace of higher education and the economy has an obvious downside: When times get tough, colleges take a beating. Predictably, tales emerge of recent graduates with expensive and worthless degrees failing to make their way into adulthood. They come from many of the same colleges, we are told, that are the envy of the world.
As college costs increase, so do expectations about payoff and questions about value. How should colleges be judged, if not by the financial success of their students? Is it higher education’s job to fix the economy?
Arum and Roska argue--and I concur with them, of course--that colleges are to be blamed a lot for how things have turned out:
We find it implausible that in a globalized knowledge economy, the current state of affairs will continue indefinitely. Not just because the growth in college costs is unsustainable, but also because legislators, families, and students will have difficulties justifying why resources are increasingly allocated not to improving instruction but to building new dormitories, student centers, and athletic facilities. While this might be an effective institutional strategy for attracting 17-year-olds as consumers and keeping them satisfied with "bread and circuses" once enrolled, it has produced a competition to provide the best amenities and student services money can buy and the least challenging academic demands and expectations.Yes.
It is high time for educators to say enough is enough. If we continue to sit on our hands, the public’s faith in higher education will continue to erode, and poorly designed accountability frameworks will likely be imposed upon the system. And we will have ourselves to blame.
"Colleges," Mr. Schneider says, "may be really sorry they went down this road."Oh yeah? How about 'em Ducks!