Given the grim economic conditions everywhere, I do not know whether to congratulate the students who are graduating, or to commiserate with them.
The American economy had barely come out of a recession when I completed my PhD. But, that recession in the early 1990s was nothing compared to this Great Recession. I did manage to find a job, and then lucked out by coming back to academia, which I truly enjoy as a calling, starting in
California and then on to . Oregon
But, unemployment as a result of this Great Recession continues to remain high, and analysts forecast that it could hover at between 8.5 and 9 percent nationwide even at the end of 2011!
Studies also point out that when careers begin at such unfavorable economic conditions, earnings tend to be low—at the starting point as well as throughout the career.
Job prospects for graduates are bleak. I am willing to bet that this is not what students had imagined will be the case, as they worked through the four to six years of college. One of my students, who is completing the undergraduate program in four years, masked her concerns in a rather humorous manner when she said that she cannot go back to living with her parents because of the attention that she will receive as the only child. A sense of humor certainly helps!
On the other side, when we look at the employment data, it does seem like we have inflated the academic credential requirements for jobs where that high level of investment in education might not be required at all. One of the often cited examples is the data that fifteen percent of the mail carriers are college graduates.
By encouraging, nudging, and even forcing youth to head to college, we find ourselves in a situation where there is no comparable taxpayer expenditure on higher education. In fact, with budget deficits over the next couple of biennia, further reductions in government support for higher education are guaranteed. This then will further compel state-assisted institutions to increase tuition and fees, which in turn will force students to borrow loans. At the end of it all, even now, a typical graduate exits with a diploma, about 20,000 dollars of debt, and no job.
Meanwhile, we taxpayers expect and require colleges to demonstrate, with appropriate measures of efficiencies and effectiveness, increases in utilization of their capacities, while learning itself gets pushed to the side. A factory system then serves as the model for education, when, ironically, the country has been rapidly shedding factories from its economic structure.
All these strengthen my worries that we are setting up a system that is bound to fail, or is already failing.
Volatire remarked that the
Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, and nor an empire. Well, higher education is increasingly neither higher nor education. Perhaps we could use the context of graduation “commencements” and commence a sincere, serious, and systematic revolution in education here in . Oregon