If you, like a number of my students, are graduating from college in the upcoming months, you’re not going to like this post. An Associated Press analysis of government data reports that half of college graduates are either jobless or are underemployed, holding positions as retail clerks or waitresses that do not require a college degree.
Students who major in the sciences, education and health fields generally fare better in the job market, although one of those interviewed by the Associated Press, Kelman Edwards, was a biology major but, after searching for work in that area for five months, was only able to find a job in construction. Edwards says that he had thought his major was a “gold ticket” for getting him jobs; he is about $5,500 in debt, a significant sum but actually much less than is the case for a number of my students.
Debt from student loans — now totaling more than $1 trillion — is one of the main factors many graduating seniors are wary of applying to graduate school, however much they think, or they are told, a Master’s or additional degree might enhance their career prospects.
Humanities Majors Least Likely To Find Jobs Related To Their Education
Students majoring in zoology, anthropology, philosophy, art history and humanities were the least likely to find jobs appropriate to their education. Those who studied nursing, teaching, accounting or computer science degrees were the most likely. In general, undergraduates who majored in the arts and humanities have had the greatest challenge finding positions in their fields, a finding again borne out by my own experience. I have very, very few students who major in my academic discipline, Classics. All three who did in the past seven years have become teachers, with only one so far now holding a full-time job teaching position.
The Associated Press‘s analysis also describes how technological changes since 2000 have eliminated, and will eliminate still more, midlevel jobs such as bank tellers. “Lower-skilled” positions such as that of home health care aide, positions in the fast food industry and truck driving — all of which are not as easily replaced by computers — are where most of the future job openings will be.
Are Colleges and Universities Failing to Prepare Students For Future Jobs?
Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University who analyzed the data, says bluntly that “we’re failing kids coming out of college.” Harvard economist Richard Freeman even discounts what has been held as common knowledge, that going to college means you will make more money on average.
As a professor of Greek and Latin literature and languages — very much a humanities person — I have to say, such data and seeing the jobs that my students have found themselves in, leads me to think that we educators need to take a hard look at what we are teaching students; at how we advise students regarding their majors and their future career prospects. I believe the liberal arts are the foundation of a college education. But, in this day and age, is a humanities major the best choice for a student with five-digit loan payments? Is it possible to encourage students to study what they love — poetry, for instance — while still directing them to a major that might lead to a career that uses some of their skills (a love of writing, perhaps)?
The Associated Press cites David Neumark, an economist at the University of California-Irvine, who says that “employers tend to value bachelor’s degree-holders more highly than high-school graduates, paying them more for the same work and offering promotions.” Having a bachelor’s degree can give you a boost in the job market — but if this is primarily to get a job that doesn’t (on paper) require a college degree, what is a college degree really worth anymore?
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Photo by Rennett Stowe