Last week, I outlined the severe problems of young adults completing bachelor’s degrees. They included high unemployment, a 25% rate of working in positions requiring their education, skyrocketing tuition, massive related debt, and the detrimental effects of starting good jobs later. The solutions most have implemented so far, such as living with parents, working part-time when possible, going off the grid, or doing other things instead, have achieved inadequate results for most. So what would help?
First, along with nebulous college rankings, we need to create a measure of career-job placement. For a given university, what share of traditionally-aged bachelor’s degree recipients are working in a position requiring that credential within one year? This metric could be adjusted, but not much – it should not, for example, exclude those in graduate school or taking time off, choices often influenced by perception of low hiring chances. Schools that refuse to publish this statistic, or will not share data used for it, should have that held against them by possible applicants.
Second, students in about the bottom 60% of their high school classes should generally not go to four-year schools right away. At this level, many go to college but don’t finish it. The routine track for average high school students with university aspirations should be to first go to a community college, live at home, and work part-time if they can find it. If they complete their two-year degrees, they should go on to a regular college or university, where, if they graduate, their diplomas will be the same as if they spent all four years there.
Third, everyone in a degree program at a four-year school should commit to getting it. That should be the specific, barely negotiable goal for everyone at that level. Nobody in doubt as to whether they can, or will, do that should be there.
Fourth, we need to reduce some expectations about college. The options above will hurt many students’ social lives, but with tuition and jobs being what they are, much of that is a luxury far fewer can afford. Those in college as well as the rest of us need to spend less, save money when it is available, and, if they have the time and need the income, work when possible.
Fifth, attending a high-tuition private university instead of a lower-cost state one should generally be, except for those in the top 10% of their high school classes or with similar family wealth, out of the question.
Sixth, young single people having trouble finding a good job should consider moving to a relatively cheap area, at least temporarily. There are great cost-of-living differences across the nation, with pay rates generally not making up for the highest ones. Plans of being in, say, New York City, Hawaii, or San Francisco sometimes just need to wait.
Seventh, but how about South Korea? That is one of the few places in the world where young Americans with four-year degrees are almost assured of being hired. Almost any can be an English teacher, paid enough to save significant money, with an apartment and health care part of the deal. The same goes, to a lesser extent, for China, Japan, and Hong Kong.
Eighth, we cannot wait for external change. The chances are far greater for another recession than for jobs for young college graduates suddenly getting much better or more plentiful.
Ninth, we all need to realize the employment crisis is permanent. Last week I saw yet another prime columnist – Robert Samuelson of The Washington Post, this time – express mystification on what is happening with work, labor and wages in this country. Automation, globalization, efficiency, and a string of smaller factors explain it well enough. When we understand that, we can at least partially unite to deal with it, and that will benefit young college graduates more than anything else listed here.