Monday, January 24, 2011

The Over-Education of America

We are a great nation.  We are.  We help the world, we change ourselves when we need it, we have grown up and grown strong in a short number of years as a country.  I love America, I love the fact that we fight the good fight and we stand as a symbol of freedom for the world.  The USA makes me proud.

We are a country where anyone can become anything.  Seriously, despite what the propagandists want us to believe, if you can dream it you can achieve it, regardless of circumstance.  Bill Clinton grew up in a trailer fer cryin' out loud.

And in that excellent vein of being able to become anything we want, higher education is available to all.  To everyone.  Unlike other parts of the planet, no one will be excluded because of socioeconomic status, race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.  Everyone can enter.  There are standards, yes, but if one studies, learns and graduates high school or gets a GED, anyone can go to college.  It might not be Harvard or Stanford, but one can go.

So, we in America are free to attend college, and attend we do!  We get technical degrees, and baccalaureate degrees, and masters and doctorates and specialities galore!  We are students for years, for decades!  We sign up and go, go go!

And, we pay, pay, pay.

When I worked for the Red Cross I met so many young people saddled with large amounts of college debt.  I couldn't believe how much these young kids, fresh out of school, owed.  They were swimming in it.

And, yet, here they were working for their hearts at a non-profit.  They say you really work at a non-profit for the benefits because the salary is rather thin, and that's pretty much true.  Here are these young idealists pouring out their hearts and souls for a cause, and carrying around a mass of college debt that will take them decades if not a lifetime to repay. 

And, yet, the atmosphere in the social services industry promotes even more education.  Sure, you got your bachelor's, but what you really need now is a masters.  And, don't forget that doctorate!  The people who can least afford to continue racking up tuition bills are the ones being pushed back to the books.  The theory is that they can advance in their careers if they have more letters after their names.

And, that's not just true for social work, it's true in every industry.  More degrees equals more pay, better titles, advancement.

But, I have to ask, at what cost?

Nearly 70% of students graduate with debt, and the average student in 2009 graduated with $24,000 debt.

That's a really nice car.  If you're not making much money, that can be a staggering number.

For some professions it totally makes sense because one's salary power can increase dramatically.  A general physician can increase his or her salary by specializing.  A chemical engineer can increase his or her take home with advanced degrees and certificates. 

However, with other professions, it only allows a slight bump in earning ability.  The degree for the lower-paid professionals acts a status symbol to placate peers and expand resume rather than a driving force to increase income.

The problem is now pandemic because industry reasons why hire a bachelor's when we can get a master's or a doctorate?  We've got highly educated and degreed professionals doing monkey work because the field is littered with over-educated and over-qualified individuals fighting for the few positions open in these hard economic times.

Higher education IS a good thing, it really is.  But, look what's happened.

According to numbers out at the end of 2010, college debt in the US is nearing $1 trillion.  It has surpassed credit card debt. 

These days if a person wants to get hired, he or she must ensure the right degrees appear on the resume, otherwise it's back to campus...

...and the financial aid office. 

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