The College Conundrum

Here is an interesting article, published by a college newspaper.  It talks about how many recent college graduates don’t work in their intended field. It begs the question: how many people are wasting time and money by going to college?

When I worked for the supermarket, I got transferred a lot. I worked with a wildly high number of employees in my fifteen years. Nearly every store I worked at had an employee with a four-year degree working there, stocking shelves, ringing up customers; nowhere near where they imagined they’d be while they were moving that tassel.

This poor sap. I'm so glad I'm going to college.
This poor sap. I’m so glad I’m going to college.

I worked with a dairy clerk with a degree in history, and a minor in Anthropology. I’ve worked with several business administration graduates, who never left the the express lane. My early career mentor had a degree in criminal justice, and would talk about how the grocery business just paid more back then, especially since he was getting kickbacks from the casinos for having slot machines in the Reno store he managed.

The last person is an anomaly. No one else thought the grocery industry would be their lot in life, but they needed a part-time job while they looked for career employment, found themselves with a family, and suddenly it was twenty years later.

What were they looking for, exactly? The man with the history degree admits that his only real chance for employment in his field was to work for a museum. I’ve seen a lot of old mystery movies. The curator is always some kindly old man, and his assistant always an attractive young woman that ends up killing someone.

Not much room for a newly graduated young man, eager and without murderous intent.

Nowadays, all we hear about is college college college. Everyone has to go to college. College should be cheaper, if not free. You’ll never survive if you don’t have some form of education after high school.

I did just fine for fifteen years, with a high school diploma. I went from janitor to assistant store director, and all I needed was drive, plus the willingness to learn. It wasn’t until my job began showing signs of poor fulfillment that I finally went to college, and only then when I found I had a passion for electronics.

As for everyone else, we live in a service driven modern world where, as of 2005, service labor exceeded 111 million citizens. The fact of the matter: we rely on the simple, low-wage actions of others, in order to live our daily lives, even though most of us are simply low-wage service employees.

Do the 1.3 million people that work for the fast food industry need a college education to flip burgers? Would it be a waste of their time to go to college, and try for something better? Is going to college even something every fast food employee is capable of? Do the managers at McDonald’s have Bachelor’s degrees in business or human resources?

The signs may say different things, but the needs will never change.
The signs may say different things, but the needs will never change.

If there was nobody to run the services our country now requires, what would happen? If everyone went to college and got a degree in business or psychology, how much would that education be worth?

I asked my Facebook friends about their college educations. I wanted to know who was working in their intended fields. Much like the article linked at the top suggested, the numbers were about half, with the few that had no college education achieving success themselves, even to points beyond that of those with degrees. I didn’t need a degree to make $55k/year, and now that I have a degree, I stand to make considerably less, especially initially.

By taking the expense out of college, do you make it worth less? I realize that school costs crazy money, but if I could send everyone I worked with in groceries to get a degree in business, how would that alter the landscape of our society? Could we function if the only people that weren’t too qualified to assemble sandwiches were non-English-speaking illegal immigrants and the functioning developmentally disabled?

If half of my friends do not work in their intended field, does that indicate that there aren’t enough jobs in those fields already? What if we graduated another few million people into the same employment pool?

And the people we are graduating, are we misrepresenting their education? A four-year degree tells everyone that you spent time learning stuff, but people seem to think it has trained them for a job, when all it has done is given them the understanding of a field of work; they still have to learn the job that a company wants doing.

How many people get that first job, only to then realize that they overstated their skills on their resume?
How many people get that first job, only to then realize that they overstated their skills on their resume?

I think this really gets people. Folks think their piece of wallpaper says they can walk into a place and run the show, and then are dismayed when reality balks at their notions. Of my friends, the highest percentage of people that worked in their intended fields were those that obtained some form of technical degree. They learned how to do a thing and went to find work in that thing. Business isn’t a job title, and to expect to find real-world employment opportunities like your professor’s classroom examples is almost absurd.

For many people that have college degrees, especially young people, I believe that school is just easier for them. Not ready to venture out into the workforce, they continue on after high school, and get a degree in something.

Perhaps this isn’t such a bad thing. A few more years of maturing can do a lot of people good. Junior college especially forces students to take courses that will teach them basic skills in speaking to and understanding others. They are basically creating cirriculum thta says, “most of you won’t be doctors, but at least we can teach you how to talk during that warehouse job interview”.

Maybe the person that got this leg up on his co-workers will only succeed as far as the paper hat profession can take him, and maybe that’s more than enough for him. We can’t all be doctors, but we can all find our place, regardless of our original intentions.

If your’e gonna do it, then do it with drive and determination. If you’re afraid to take that chance, don’t worry about it; our society is very accommodating to persons such as yourself.