Two weeks ago I wrote about the findings of professor and
author Peter Cappelli in his recent book, Will
College Pay Off?
, on what is happening with American higher education and
how it has dealt with students’ twin problems of ever-higher cost and worsening
employment prospects. Cappelli wrote
that colleges and universities have reacted to them in two major ways. To help the first by being more compatible
with work, they have offered courses at unconventional times and places. For the second, especially to address
perceptions that their learners might not get hired after graduation, universities
have created a variety of majors which sound more like individual courses or
even job titles. Examples from the book,
to add to the four I named last time, are “turf and turfgrass management,”
“economic crime investigation,” and “fire protection engineering.” The more flexible teaching offerings have
helped, but, according to Cappelli, the hyper-specific majors have not, as
demand for such positions often changes dramatically in the years between
choosing such a program and finishing it.
In the November 25 post I distilled the book down to these and five
other points about how college has changed:
how they, especially community colleges, now provide most vocational
training; that there is no shortage of
science, technology, engineering, and mathematics graduates; that people may need to get degrees even when
their targeted jobs don’t require them to compete with candidates with these
higher qualifications but unemployed;
that it is hardly guaranteed that university degrees boost lifetime
earnings; and that college will not pay
for itself for many of its attendees.
Accordingly, the burden is on those considering college and
university attendance to make the most of these new realities. How can they do that?
First, prospective students should generally minimize
borrowing. That means choosing schools
with lower costs net of other forms of financial aid, such as grants,
scholarships, and campus work opportunities.
Second, that usually means using community colleges whenever possible,
in three main ways: for the first two
years when the learner expects to get a four-year degree; for a two-year
program when that is the only thing required to get into the student’s chosen
field; and for vocational courses providing preparation for skilled trades and
other areas not requiring degrees at all.
People can save a lot of money by starting at community colleges, and as
more and more choose that option, the social life at such places, historically
weaker than at four-year schools, will improve.
Third, they should avoid overly specialized majors. A degree in management, including courses in
areas of special interest, has potential to help in many directions, whereas
one in turf and turfgrass management will limit options without a likely enough
advantage. Fourth, unless their families
have the money to cover traditional university tuition, room, and board, first
and second-year students should live at home if possible. Even if their parents need money to cover
some or all of their expenses, it is still the cheapest arrangement for all
Fifth, when considering careers, prospective students should
look at how long they will last. It is a
waste of time and money, not to mention demoralizing, for people to prepare for
work in fields that will not be available in the future. The best predictors of career longevity, as I
see them, are resistance to three things: automation, foreign workers, and improved
business efficiency. Other factors may
be chosen as more critical, but it is important to at least think about where Americans
will actually be hired in 10 or 20 years, as opposed to in the immediate
future. Although I usually do not
recommend lists of the best jobs, as they almost always take too short-term a
view, one, “10 professions with the best job security,” recently published by
Fidelity, is unusually perceptive, and avoids the traps of careers such as
pharmacy and information technology which are doing well now but are headed for
severe falls before today’s graduates turn 30.
This article is at https://www.fidelity.com/insights/personal-finance/10-jobs-with-best-security
Sixth, if someone knows by their mid-teens that they are the
kind of person who should be in business for himself or herself – and that was
the case for most great entrepreneurs – they should not bother with a college
degree program. That universities would
probably be delighted to admit them does not mean that is their best choice – in
this case, it probably is not.
Seventh, if people find themselves with a real chance to get
a legitimately good job out of high school, but had planned on continuing with
school, they should consider taking the position, especially if it is with a
company or industry which helps employees with college tuition, as they then may
be able to complete their education later at a far lower cost.
Eighth, when anyone chooses a college for a final degree they
should pin schools down on placement rates and other measures of their
graduates’ success, and assess them accordingly. Nothing of substance to say or share on that
topic in 2015 is bad news.
Ninth, in all this we should not forget that education is
still valuable in itself. Students
should take opportunities to learn about different things, especially in
liberal arts courses, which are available even at the great majority of
community colleges. What we learn in the
likes of philosophy, sociology, psychology, and other academic areas barely if
at all covered in high school may stick with us for life, as will insights from
literature. The rules may be different
now, but the greatest of what has been said, written, and thought is still
worthy of our attention.