On Relationships: Jobs, Money, Bubbles

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

A couple of interesting relationships in the paper this morning. There’s the report on UCONN’s raise in tuition which related to the article on college students and jobs.

Nationally, we’re due for major issues in graduation rates and matches in the job market, what I’d call a sort of degree bubble, though this isn’t the most accurate description. If there are more architects graduating than there are openings in architecture firms, then the architect must either wait for an opening or try something else. May/June graduations will be spirited until reality hits. How colleges and universities react or change will have a lot to do national policy coming out of Congress, though it may not be the responsibility of the college to have to worry about it, as a multi-decade problem has been brewing over the role of colleges and universities in the ecology of “quality of life.”

In terms of education, most of the students that I know and work with aren’t really sure why they’ve entered higher ed, other than it’s something they should be doing or need to do. Or they’re fallowing a now-common life narrative of birth, school, more school, then work. At my college, the money is less of an issue than it would be at a big money institution, where the debt load can be astronomical, though for many of my students low cost still equates to big money. The narrative is important as it relates to others, such as the loss of manufacturing jobs, which provided alternative means to a decent living after WWII. Now, recent high school graduates can either stay where they are (living however they’re living) or go to school, which confuses the role of higher education from the perspective of the personal (and live according to a future vision based on what exists now or how “now” is interpreted).

I remember when I graduated from high school. I would say something like, “I have to find a job.” Most people knew what this meant: it meant “dish washing” to make money for tuition at a relatively inexpensive state university. The reality at this point is that the college degree is in high demand. Whether the degree should be high demand is not my issue in this post. But I don’t think the persistent mantra of deficit reduction at the national level has much to do with the realities of this demand. It’s a simple mantra, that federal deficit cutting with create jobs. If this is true, I have to see the working syllogism. It seems to me that the more complicated and significant question is: what future economy will create demand for people with college or university degrees?

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