Monday, January 7, 2013

The New College Failure

Much has been written about the precipitously declining value of a Juris Doctor. As some people have put it, law school is the last resort for college undergrads who desperately want to be rich but also desperately bad at math and science.

Well now the college graduates who want to be rich and are good at math don't seem to be shaking out so well either. A pair of articles from the Wall Street Journal cast doubt on the utility of MBAs. You can read them here and here. The basic premise is that, increasingly, business schools are basing their admission decisions on the applicant's employability and that newly minted MBAs are finding that their offer sheets are not nearly as generous as they were in previous years.

This is coming on top of the mounting consensus that, in many cases, even undergraduate education isn't worth it. Tales of students with anywhere from 80-200k in student loan debt struggling to acquire gainful employment that's "commensurate" with their status as undergraduate degree holders are legion and their numbers are increasing. It seems that a growing portion of the intelligentsia are saying college isn't worth it.

I happen to agree with them. Most colleges have devolved into something barely more than an extended stay hotel that bestows a credential of dubious value after you've proved that you can occasionally show up to class and exhibit various bouts of sentience. I have a lot of friends who are either graduates or current students of Georgia State University. And based on what I've learned from them, GSU is trying to shed its identity of a "commuter school" and turn into a full fledged university offering the traditional "college experience".

So what is that exactly? Well, look at what the university is trying to do. It recently added a football program. It's acquiring more on-campus housing and trying to form a contiguous campus. The intent is obvious. It has nothing to do with improving the education their students receive (unless some administrator wants to spin an argument that a more integrated campus fosters "creative spirit" and "innovation"). It's about getting young students together and letting them drink, party, have sex, and occasionally show up to class hungover.

This problem is exacerbated by the truism pounded into the non-college educated populace that college is important and will guarantee you a bright future. Throw in the fact that the Federal government will bankroll just about any student with loans with below market interest rates, and you have a market that is remarkably insulated from cost control or quality control.

You don't need to plagiarize an essay about the regressive feminism of Pride and Prejudice in order to become a junior copywriter. Or a Starbucks barista for that matter. Increasingly, our workplace is rapidly reducing to a single question: can you produce? A college degree used to signal to employers that, for this particular applicant, the answer is "yes". That's not the case anymore.

We've shed millions of jobs during the Great Recession. And our labor utilization rate is still well below what it was in 2007. Despite that, real GDP has grown. And there is a staggering implication to be realized from that: we've essentially ejected millions of people from the workforce and suffered no productivity loss from it.

It'll still take a few more years (or even a decade) for people to realize that most colleges should be considered part of the hospitality industry. But until then, you gotta be smart. Go to a college, major in a field that "makes things", go to class, get good grades, fight like hell to get internships, and then graduate with a job offer in hand.

No comments:

Post a Comment