Here is some thoroughly disquieting news, especially for those have just graduated from college and their parents: For the first time, a majority of the unemployed have attended college, says Investors Business Daily. Specifically, 4.7 million of the 9 million unemployed in April had attended some college or graduated, according to seasonally adjusted Labor Department data. In contrast, in 1992, 2.3 million jobless had gone to college.
Before anyone who is currently in college says that’s the last straw and they’re just going to work more hours in their part-time job at the mall, put college on hold possibly forever and stop worrying about how to pay their tuition checks, a few things to consider.
First, more people are attending college than ever before and more older Americans who do not have a degree are exiting the workforce. As Investors Business Daily points out, 43 percent of those 25 and older had attended some college in 1992; in contrast, 57 percent attended some college in 2011.
In addition, it is necessary to note that the data include anyone who spent some time taking college courses, not everyone who graduated:
Unemployment for those 25 and up with some college but no degree was 8% in April compared to 6.6% for the age group, measured on a more volatile seasonally unadjusted basis. In the same month, the jobless rate was 7.7% for 25-and-up high school grads with no college and 6.2% for those with a two-year college degree.
In The Atlantic, Matthew O’Brien underscores that the figures show a “story about more people going to college, but not nearly as many more people finishing college” — too many people are finding themselves in the worst-of-both-worlds situation of having no college degree but debt from student loans. As a result,
Their finances get worse, but their job prospects don’t get much better. That’s how we get a world where most of the unemployed have attended at least some college.
O’Brien argues that the study adds to the case for keeping college tuition affordable, so students don’t find themselves overwhelmed by “short-term costs,” with the result that they drop out of college, continue to work a lower-paying job (indeed, they have to more than ever to pay back the debt they have accrued) and stay in that job or one like it.
O’Brien acknowledges that it’s not at all obvious how to go keep (make) college affordable. Mike Shedlock in Business Insider uses the data to argue for ending federal and state student loans programs, advising students not to choose such “useless or nearly-useless” majors as English and increasing competition by accrediting both more online and foreign universities. While these suggestions may make sense from a business, free-market perspective, they do students no real favors. Now may not be the best time to major in fine arts (not that it ever is) but there’s reason for caution in accrediting online (for-profit) universities and those in other countries.
We can cast more scrutiny on why college costs as much as it does. Executive pay has risen at many universities. Parents and students need to be savvy about what the financial aid office’s package really says before they send in a deposit: Every year, freshmen at my college disappear after the first semester, telling me that the school is too expensive, but they didn’t really realize this until after they had started attending classes.
Those who do have a college degree still have lower unemployment and still earn more than those who do not have one. The wage gap between them and those with only a high school degree is growing: Getting a college degree is more than worth it. The question is, how do we help students achieve that goal for their long-term futures, in view of the short-term pressures they face?
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