Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Of course college guarantees jobs ... for academics and administrators!

In its editorial, the Editorial Board of the NY Times has a powerful sentence, which is consistent with what I have been writing here (and in op-eds) for years:
the familiar assumption — graduate from college and prosperity will follow — has been disproved in this century.
I have been warning students about that broken relationship ... for years.  The American Dream is not a guarantee, when all over the world people are working hard to achieve their own versions of the American Dream.  But, hey, nobody listens to me :(

The editorial continues with this:
The problem is that the economy does not produce enough jobs that require college degrees. Private-sector white-collar jobs can increasingly be moved offshore and automated, while public-sector jobs that require degrees, notably teaching, have been decimated by deep layoffs and feeble hiring. Business investment and consumer spending have suffered in the busts of recent decades, and government spending has not picked up the slack, leading to chronic shortfalls in demand for goods, services and employees. One sign of the downshift is that much of the recent job growth has been in lower-paying occupations. Worse, there is little evidence of a turnaround. In the past five years, postings for jobs that do not require a college degree have steadily outpaced postings for those that do.
The result is lower-quality jobs and lower pay for college graduates. Take, for example, the roughly one-third of college graduates who spend their work lives in jobs that do not require a degree. 
I have been worrying about this forever, it seems like.  As I noted recently, quoting from my op-ed from four years ago, "I try to make students understand that any job that can be sent to a different country will be sent, and that any job that can be automated will be automated."  But, who listens to me,  right?

In fact,  in the summer of 2007, I attacked the college hype itself--the first of my op-eds along these lines was published, and the title says it all: "Does U.S. oversell college?"  To which an academic in town authored in the same paper a knee-jerk response filled with cliches about the virtues of a college degree and while attacking me.  Oh well ...  Apparently he listened to me!

Reading those sentences in the NY Times convinces that me all the more that if I, a nobody at a podunk university, have been correctly reading the tea leaves for years, then certainly the truth was right there, staring at all of us.  Either we chose to ignore it--denial--or it was one heck of a conspiracy to hide the truth that is finally coming out into the open.  "I told you so" is of no use at this point!

I do a full-disclosure of sorts in classes and when talking with students.  I tell them that earning an A in my class would not even get them a cup of coffee at Starbucks.  It will not directly lead to a job, I tell them.  But, if they paid attention to my approach, which might seem like Mr. Miyagi's "wax on, wax off" instructions to the kid who wanted to learn karate, then it will all work out, I assure them.  But then--you know what is coming now--nobody listens to me!



Ramesh said...

I learnt a new word - Podunk :)

I wonder why jobs with college degrees are not growing in the US. Yes, the simple(r) jobs that can be offshores, will be offshores and those that can be automated, will be. But those were the types of jobs that did not require a college degree in the first place. I would therefore expect that jobs requiring degrees will grow, as America moves to more knowledge intensive activities. So I would expect degree explosion - more and more advanced degrees to try and capture those knowledge intensive jobs.

I know job growth at the lower end will also happen - things that cannot ever be offshored or automated, like the girl behind the till at Starbucks. But surely the higher end jobs are also growing requiring more and more people to get advanced degrees ...

Mike Hoth said...

I think the biggest problem with the college degree is not that my generation has fallen into the hype, it is that our elders have. I'm expected to have prior experience for every job offer I see to go along with a bachelor's degree, if not a master's. My wife will end up with a master's degree to teach teenagers about history, not because she needs it but because 6-7 years of college is "necessary".

The trouble with the degree explosion, Ramesh, is that it happened years ago. The United States has a higher proportion of college educated citizenry than ever before and the numbers keep rising. With so many people running around with degrees, spending 4-5 years in college doesn't make graduates more employable.

Sriram Khé said...

Mike, if it is any comfort, well, I authored an op-ed, also in the Statesman Journal, a few years ago on this issue of the inflated credentials that are mandated for even an elementary school teacher. It was five years ago. Nobody listened to me, of course!
Here's the link to that in my blog: http://sriramkhe.blogspot.com/2011/09/if-we-are-interested-in-student.html

I have been arguing for a while that the combination of outsourcing and automation will lead to high-paying jobs at the top, and quite a few minimum-wage jobs at the bottom, but will deplete the kinds of jobs that defined the American middle class dream. Attempts to stop outsourcing will backfire because that will only lead to more automation. Thus, for a while, I have been arguing in favor of a new social contract for this digital century. But, of course, nobody listens to me!

Knowledge-intensive, yes, but that requires high levels of knowledge. Merely getting a degree in biology does not make one a knowledge-worker. Which is also why I have been railing against the STEM hype. But, nobody listens to me :( This was an op-ed three years ago:

At the end of it all, the Starbucks employee, the front desk clerk at the hotel, and more, are college graduates working in jobs that need a high school education at best :(

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