Even in China, College Graduates Can’t Find Jobs

It’s become an awkward truth that, in the U.S., a college degree is no longer a guarantee for a job in the subject that a student majors in — that having a teaching degree means you’ll get a job as a teacher. Even when a graduate gets a job, their salary is often not enough to pay back debt on student loans. A college degree is no longer the great equalizer it was once thought to be.

The U.S. is not the only nation where high school students give their all to get into the best school possible, only to find that less than bright prospects await them. Families in China are encountering a surprisingly similar situation.

In an effort to change (in one fell swoop) from a nation where a tiny, well-educated elite ruled (for centuries) over the country’s millions, China has made it a goal to quadruple the number of college graduates. Eight million students, many of whose parents had only a cursory education, graduate from China’s universities and community colleges a year. The push to expand education to all sectors of China’s population has occurred at all levels: while only 1 in 6 Chinese 17-year-olds had graduated from high school in 1996, three in five now do.

Even in a country with a booming economy, though, college graduates cannot find work. While China has thousands of spots in factories that need filling, a recent national survey by a Chinese university revealed that “among people in their early 20s, those with a college degree were four times as likely to be unemployed” as those whose education ended in primary school.

Students and their families in the U.S. are going deeply into debt to fund college, but the price is even higher for Chinese families. Those from poor rural areas like the Wu family in a coal-mining area in western China have devoted almost all of their earnings for years not only to save for college, but also to pay for elementary and secondary school.

As a New York Times profile of the family and their 19-year-old daughter, Wu Caoying, reveals, college is no guarantee for stable employment in a “white collar” office job. Wu Caoying is a sophomore at a polytechnic university in Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi province (and the ancient capital of the first Chinese emperor). She is majoring in logistics, a popular major due to the rise in internet commerce in China. But being a “slightly above average student” in her academic work, and too aware of how her tuition and boarding eats up almost all of her parents’ wages, she is thinking of dropping out of school and starting her own business, though she has neither the money nor experience for such.

Are there only so many white collar jobs even a huge economy like China’s can support? Or is the problem education systems — the U.S.’s, China’s — that are failing adequately to train students for the careers they can attain? In the U.S., eectricians, plumbers and others in skilled professional fields that do not require a college degree are seeing 23 percent job growth.

One phenomenon that is going on in the U.S. is that a college degree is required for jobs – file clerk, receptionist — that had once only required a high school diploma. A year after President Obama spoke of college for all, college is as important as ever but students and their parents need to factor a new reality into their decisions, that the jobs they end up with may not be the ones they went to college for.

Is it really worth it to go into five figures of debt to spend your days operating a xerox machine? Is the dream of college for the masses turning out to be a nightmare?


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Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson4 years ago

Before taking leave for my pregnancy i had a GREAT job, paid well. plenty of room to move up. And all i have is a diploma. Meanwhile a few of my friends have just graduated with 4 year degrees, and all of them are struggling. One is back at the same job she's had since she was 16, 7 years later she is doing the same thing after paying thousands to get a degree in a completely different field.

Lydia Weissmuller Price

Finding gainful employment [or any employment, for that matter] is a nightmare everyone is facing. In America, people with years of college are out of work or thankful to find jobs cleaning toilets. The more things change, the more they stay the same...only now the factories are gone over here. Personally, I think that the last thing the government of China wants is a college grad on the assembly line when they're violating safety standards and health codes. They know too much, talk too much, and might even have the audacity to expose them.

Vicky P.
Vicky P4 years ago

sad, it seems to be happening in a lot of countries/areas

Allan Yorkowitz
.4 years ago

With a country of over a billion people, what are the odds of finding a job that thousands of others are qualified for? No wonder these educated people look for employment in Europe and the West.

g             d c.
g d c4 years ago


Carole R.
Carole R4 years ago


Jonathan Harper
Jonathan Harper4 years ago


Will Rogers
Will Rogers4 years ago

The Hubris that is in this article is disgusting. Wishing the same misfortune on others is vile. And hating whole nations is despicable. This is a case of looking at someone's problems to make yourself feel better. Ms Chew must really hate the Chinese, but more likely, herself. Racially she comes from that part of the world, so her damning of it is even more poignant, but a certain 'je ne se quois' bleeds through. China bashing will get the world nowhere. Chinas economy will continue to be strong as long as they're not at war, and will continue to grow, and while military industrialised countries will continue to waste all their money pursuing global domination, real global domination by economic means will remain in the hands of countries that actually produce things, that make things that people need Such as Clothes, food, washing machines and other 'white goods' reliable cars, machinery, computers, and all for a fair price! The world needs and demands sweat shop economies, yesterday it was the UK and America, and more recently Germany and Japan...today it's China, Korea and other far eastern economies, and tomorrow it will be India and the African continent...everyone needs a chance to take tens of millions out of debilitating poverty. It's a hard road, but a necessary journey, and they will learn a lot from it. We just have to not let our paranoia force us into having a war with them for doing the same and better than what we have done.

Bmr Reddy
Ramu Reddy4 years ago

noted, thanks

Maureen Hawkins
Maureen Hawkins4 years ago

Business requires university degrees for jobs that do not require the specialized skills--analytical reading, writing, & thinking & sophisticated problem-solving skills--that a university education provides; then they complain that universities don't teach the skills they want--why ask for a university degree when it's not what you want? Furthermore, because they don't want to spend money training their employees (which is why they want the universities to do it for them & try to change universities into training schools for their needs), they also demand experience for these jobs so that new graduates with the requisite unneeded degree can't get them. Then they use this as an excuse to claim there are no qualified workers for their jobs in the country so they can hire cheaper workers from abroad. They save money & make a bigger profit; the foreign employees quite reasonably send money to their families at home, thus taking it out of the national economy, and the university grads end up on welfare or flipping burgers, thus further depressing the national economy. It's time these businesses are reined in instead of buying politicians to help them get rich at the expense of the taxpayers.