While I’ve written on this topic before, it’s become top of mind for me again as I have a son preparing to go to college this Fall.
Much has been written about the enormous unemployment rates of new college grads. It’s not a new problem, but rather one that’s been growing over the past decade or more. New grads consistently experience unemployment rates two to three times higher than the overall national average.
Conventional wisdom tends to point to challenging economic conditions. The reality in my opinion, however, has more to do with the kind of education so many graduates received that hinders their employment prospects.
Historically, much smaller percentages of high school graduates went on to college. When someone did, they were viewed as an obviously superior choice over someone that had no degree, regardless of their major. A good liberal arts education was viewed as valuable as a more technical or career related discipline because it still showed that the person could complete a long-term goal.
Information Systems positions, for example, were often filled by a variety of educational backgrounds with the idea that if they hire a smart person, the technical skill education can be provided by the employer. In today’s world, however, when there are greater numbers of graduates with directly related degrees, it becomes much more difficult to compete with an unrelated education.
Additionally, enrollment in “studies” programs have mushroomed in the last decade. Women’s Studies, African-American Studies, Latin-American Studies, Folk Studies, Asian Studies and so many more may be interesting, however, have very few prospects in the job market.
A prevailing idea that getting a degree, any degree, will assure career prospects and success is simply not proven in today’s marketplace.
In today’s reality, greater numbers of high school students than ever go on to obtain a college education. While that is definitely a positive development, it means that competition for jobs that require a college education is stiffer than ever.
If an employer is considering a number of applicants, some of whom have a degree directly related to the position at hand, and some who have a more general or unrelated degree, the choice becomes obvious. If a Software Development Manager that is hiring a new Programmer considers some applicants that have graduated with Computer Science, or Software Engineering degrees and already have some training in the software languages the company uses, compared to others that appear smart, however, have degrees in Russian Literature, Women’s Studies, or even Physics, it becomes an easy choice when selecting who to interview.
Certainly there can be a great personal value in gaining a college education for the sake of personal development. However, when a four-year degree generally costs between $50,000 and $100,000 or sometimes much more, there are few cases where that kind of investment makes sense without a potential return on investment.
More than ever, direct career related degrees are critical to gain employment in today’s market. The unemployment rate among new graduates in Accounting, Engineering, Computer Science, Medicine, Finance, Hospitality Management, Emergency Management, and many others is incredibly low.
A college degree, in and of itself, is no longer a ticket to higher earnings or automatic job prospects. The return on investment in non-career related degrees is dismal. While pursuing a degree program of great interest can feel worthwhile, the job prospects for the program ought to be considered if a job is the goal.
The kind of education matters!