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Angst for the educated

Roger_DooleyRoger_Dooley Founder Posts: 106,392 Senior Member
This may not be breaking news, but a degree is no longer a guarantee of financial security. The Economist has an interesting article on the changing employment picture for college grads:
The supply of university graduates is increasing rapidly. The Chronicle of Higher Education calculates that between 1990 and 2007 the number of students going to university increased by 22% in North America, 74% in Europe, 144% in Latin America and 203% in Asia. In 2007 150m people attended university around the world, including 70m in Asia. Emerging economies—especially China—are pouring resources into building universities that can compete with the elite of America and Europe. They are also producing professional-services firms such as Tata Consulting Services and Infosys that take fresh graduates and turn them into world-class computer programmers and consultants. The best and the brightest of the rich world must increasingly compete with the best and the brightest from poorer countries who are willing to work harder for less money.

Schumpeter: Angst for the educated | The Economist

At the same time, the article highlights data showing that degreed individuals earn far more than those without college education.

So, should you skip college and become a plumber?

My take is not that earning a degree is a waste of time, but career selection and perhaps college major choice are increasingly important. What do you think?
Post edited by Roger_Dooley on
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Replies to: Angst for the educated

  • mommusicmommusic Registered User Posts: 8,301 Senior Member
    My take is not that earning a degree is a waste of time, but career selection and perhaps college major choice are increasingly important.

    Yes. As the job market gets tighter here, with manufacturing & other jobs going overseas, but there are more college graduates (the latter is a good thing, right?), it would behoove kids to have a plan. Not everyone should be a liberal arts major. And even if you think that is your best option, you should have some sort of idea what to do with it.
  • bruno123bruno123 Registered User Posts: 1,390 Senior Member
    The best and the brightest of the rich world must increasingly compete with the best and the brightest from poorer countries who are willing to work harder for less money.

    That is not entirely true (yet) because, unlike capital which is free to flow across the borders, there are still restrictions to international labor mobility, especially immigration laws. To a lesser extent, there are also culture/language barriers that affect the competitiveness of foreign workers.
  • bruno123bruno123 Registered User Posts: 1,390 Senior Member
    @Mommusic: if I recall it correctly, according to latest OECD reports, the percentage of the young adult population in the US with an initial college degree is around 37 % . That may not seem too much, but is actually higher than in all other major industrial economies, except Japan.

    There are actually 13 or so OECD countries with higher college graduation rates than the US, but they are mostly small-population countries like Finland, Iceland, New Zealand, Denmark, Ireland, etc. Among the bigger countries, the UK for example was slightly behind the US at 35 % and a major industrial powerhouse like Germany was way behind at 25 % or so only. In the German case, the low percentage of college graduates reflects an educational system that, from an early age (sometimes as early as 6th grade) intentionally steers low-income and/or under-achieving kids to vocational/technical tracks in school as opposed to the academic track that would lead ultimately to a university education

    In the US, the focus is instead on the comprehensive High School model that is increasingly oriented towards college preparation classes. That is not necessarily bad and, in fact, may even be the right thing to do in a post-industrial, information society. The downside of the US model is however that many school kids are left with the impression that college is a natural follow-up of a High School education and that everybody has to go to college, which is not the case.
  • Time2Time2 Registered User Posts: 708 Member
    While a college degree is NOT a guarantee of financial security, I wouldn't use that as your primary reason to not attend college and get a degree. The article is somewhat misleading in its title. I was expecting to see some analysis or statistics about those with college degrees who are unemployed, but it mostly contains the author's assumptions about the future.
  • DasSuiGenerisDasSuiGeneris Registered User Posts: 131 Junior Member
    It shouldn't be; almost everyone goes to college now. Of course there's no financial security in a college degree. Why would they want college grads with a B.A in something random when they can get increasing numbers of people who complete grad school as well?
    There is still security in that, by the way.
  • Roger_DooleyRoger_Dooley Founder Posts: 106,392 Senior Member
    >>There is still security in that, by the way.
    Maybe not so much... Many PhDs can't find work in their field (which is often caused by the limited number of tenure-track prof positions). JDs also have major issues except for those with degrees from top schools and strong credentials. Of course, a PhD in CompSci is probably still golden.

    >>there are still restrictions to international labor mobility
    The bigger challenge may be work mobility. Software development, legal research, etc. can be shifted offshore quite readily. That may not always produce ideal results, but some firms have decided the tradeoff is worth it. And a professional in a developing nation is probably quite a bit cheaper there vs. that same person living in the U.S.
  • b@r!um[email protected]!um Registered User Posts: 10,380 Senior Member
    In the German case, the low percentage of college graduates reflects an educational system that, from an early age (sometimes as early as 6th grade) intentionally steers low-income and/or under-achieving kids to vocational/technical tracks in school as opposed to the academic track that would lead ultimately to a university education
    In this context I always like to point out that the terms "university education" and "vocational training" have different meanings in Germany and the US. Nurses, accountants, kindergarten teachers, most bankers and many programmers go through the vocational track in Germany, not the academic track.

    What I personally find interesting in the German example is that college seems the least popular in those German states with the strongest economy. Bavaria has an unemployment rate of 3.7% and the second-highest GDP per capita, yet the lowest percentage of students with the academic-track high school credential that's required to enroll at a public university - only 22%. (I have been trying to find the rate of actual college graduates broken down by state, to no avail.)

    But I guess it's not surprising that the academic track is so unpopular when it's not necessary to have a career. Students in the vocational track start earning money as an apprentice at age 16; students who go through college don't have a full-time job until they are 25 or so.
  • englishjwenglishjw Registered User Posts: 405 Member
    Roger_Dooley "My take is not that earning a degree is a waste of time, but career selection and perhaps college major choice are increasingly important. What do you think?"

    I agree entirely with this statement. All college degrees are not the same. We all know far too many students that major in areas where former graduates have had difficulty launching careers even in good times. Bad times simply exacerbate this problem. Who is more likely to be employed upon graduation - an engineer or someone with a fine arts degree?

    Of course, that doesn't mean much if anything unless the goal is simply to become employed, earn money, launch a career, etc. If the person truly is only interested in the arts, an engineering career would alienate them every day of their life. So, if the issue is simply one of employment and compensation there clearly is a difference in the specific degree. If the person's objectives are focused primarily if not exclusively on what they hope to do, they should go for the degree that might help them get there. These are different goals. I think graduating students become disgruntled when the degree they selected for other purposes doesn't lead directly to the path of riches. Everyone's expectations should be realistic.
  • b@r!um[email protected]!um Registered User Posts: 10,380 Senior Member
    My take is not that earning a degree is a waste of time, but career selection and perhaps college major choice are increasingly important. What do you think?
    I agree somewhat.

    My biggest concern is that many teenagers don't make a purposeful decision to go to college; they go without a goal or a plan, because it's taken for granted that middle class students will go to college these days. I am all for a broad liberal arts education when a student makes a deliberate decision to get one, aware of the benefits and willing to work with the disadvantages (e.g. employability). It's problematic when liberal arts majors become the default for students who haven't given much thought to their interests or career choice, as it's happening right now. Students who have made a career choice might apply to the business or engineering or nursing school. Everyone else applies "undecided" to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
  • Lemaitre1Lemaitre1 Registered User Posts: 1,736 Senior Member
    The surplus of college graduates seems to be concentrated in a number of majors in the liberal arts such as Political Science, Communications, History, Psychology and Economics and Life Sciences such as Biology and Biochemistry. My older son is a junior at a state university majoring in Geology and my younger son is a freshman Physics major at the same school and I am fairly optomistic that they will have fairly good employment prospects when they graduate.

    My older son has a considerably better than average aptitude for Mathematics but is by no means a gifted Math student. Nevertheless, to maximize his chances for a good position in the field of Geology he has completed three semesters of Calculus for Math, Physical Science and Engineering majors and is currently taking Differential Equations. He has completed one semester of Calculus based Physics, is taking a second semester now and plans to take a third. He has to work hard at these courses but has taken on the challenge of difficult Math and Math based courses because he knows that companies who employ geologists want people with strong quantitative backgrounds.

    My younger son, who struggles with Asperger's syndrome, is truly gifted with an extraordinary aptitude for Mathematics that should serve him well in Physics. He is socially awkward but I think that is true of many physicists and they usually have no difficulties finding employment in industry, government, acadamia and even the financial world as their quantitative skills are usually in high demand.

    Most of the Liberal Arts and many of the Biology majors chose those fields because they wanted to avoid taking rigorous courses in Math and Physical Sciences. It appears that a very large number of Americans fear Math, are convinced they can not do Math or are not willing to make the effort that learning something like Multi-variable Calculus requires. They flock to majors that have no or minimal Math requirements. They want a college degree that, above all else, does not require them to study Math and then are distressed when employers, who often prize quantitative skills in prospective employees, are not interested in hiring them. As long as the majority of American college graduates are able to get their diploma without taking a substantial course in Math, these college graduates are going to have difficulty finding stable and financially secure positions.
  • g0ld3ng0ld3n Registered User Posts: 896 Member
    ^Thank you for an extremely well informative and true post that I very much agree with. The cultural fear of math in the US is a pretty good inhibitor of one's potential. However, I kind of disagree that people go to life science majors to "take the easy math less road." Most colleges, including my own, require a full year of calculus for preparation for most life science majors as well as a full year of calculus based physics, chemistry, and organic chemistry. I don't see how this is an easy road for the weary of heart students. Most of these students attempt it because they aspire to apply to med school only to realize that the demands of these courses are too much and they come back down to planet reality and opt out of the pre med path. As a neuroscience major myself, I don't think my major is devoid of math and quantitative science in the least bit. I still have to take multi-variable calculus and calculus based physics 2 just for preparation for upper division classes. But yes, I do completely agree with your post. The American "fear of mathematics" has anything but helped college bound youth. If anything, there needs to be a paradigm shift soon so that people are aware that sometimes they have to NOT DO WHAT THEY LOVE and do WHAT THEY HATE (math) to get ahead in life.
  • englishjwenglishjw Registered User Posts: 405 Member
    Lemaitre1

    I agree with most of your post as well. One part did make me laugh just a bit. I am considerably older than your younger son (and probably you). I wanted to major in physics. When I discussed this with both my high school counselor and college career counselor, they both told me that the only job possibilities would likely be teaching physics! Best of luck to both of your sons that have opted to take study paths that clearly lead to something.
  • chaospaladinchaospaladin Registered User Posts: 747 Member
    Would liberal arts departments at some universities be forced to shut down due to increasing students going into STEM (if this happens in a hypothetical situation)?
  • englishjwenglishjw Registered User Posts: 405 Member
    ^ I can't see "shutdown" as probable in the foreseeable future. However, downsizing of some degree programs may be just over the horizon. Is college the next bubble?
  • Lemaitre1Lemaitre1 Registered User Posts: 1,736 Senior Member
    I think we are a very long way from such an outcome. My younger son is one of about 15 freshmen majoring in Physics at California State University Sacramento this fall compared to over 700 new Psychology majors. Counting graduate students my older son is one of about 80 Geology majors out of a student body of 27,000 at CSUS. These numbers have remained fairly stable over the years despite the fact that Liberal Arts graduates have encountered increasing difficulty finding employment in their fields in recent years. I think that as long as students can get a BA without taking any more Math than a basic Statistics class, large numbers of students are going to continue to major in Psychology and Political Science. Currently, the fastest growing major appears to be Communications which consists of numerous Liberal Arts classes but apparently no Math or Physical Science courses.

    Frankly, I am more worried about the future viability of the Geology and Physics Departments at CSUS which attract few new majors but require expensive laboratories and equipment than i am about the Liberal Arts Departments which produce far more revenue due to their much higher student enrollments and relatively low costs to operate.
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