In an economy where the unemployment rate is high and job growth is slow, it’s no secret that more universities are stepping up their marketing efforts to attract students with the lure of high-paying jobs after graduation. Job placement statistics have become a measure of a university’s competitiveness and are a key component of nearly every university brochure or website. At the same time, there has also been a flood of new entrants into the business of higher education, most catering to students seeking trade or technical training for a specific profession. The combination of these factors makes the short-term trend in higher education crystal clear- universities must produce employable graduates who can fill the slew of entry-level jobs that still remain in the nation’s sputtering economy. The federal government couldn’t agree more, throwing both money and fast-tracking authority behind educational programs with the potential to reduce the nation’s staggering unemployment rate.
However, the entry level jobs that most colleges are now aiming students for are jobs with little opportunity for advancement or career growth. Meanwhile, many layers of middle and upper management, along with many departments, are vanishing as companies find ways to improve and automate their core processes. The jobs that are increasingly available require a sufficient level of technical training and the ability to do repetitive work for a long time – or at least until the company can find a way to automate even those tasks. In an effort to grow enrollment and contain spiraling overhead, universities are falling over each other to capitalize on this trend. As a result of this shift, what is happening to the requirements for obtaining a university degree? Furthermore, for those not interested in working a repetitive job for the rest of their lives, what value does a college degree still hold?
We followed up with a number of graduates in different professions to find out:
Eric, a graduate in Finance from Rutgers State University of New Jersey did a brief stint as a low level analyst at a large mutual fund company before realizing that there was no opportunity for career advancement. He quit and founded his own investment firm, in conjunction with two partners. “I expected things to be different when I graduated, but the economic climate was just not favorable. Much of what I needed to succeed was going to have to be learned out in the field by running my own business. Although the college credentials look good on paper, I could probably have jumped into this straight out of high school.” In spite of this, Eric still endorses the overall shift in higher education, if not slightly tongue in cheek, stating that “I’m glad to see colleges becoming more practical and job-oriented. Especially when it comes time for us to interview and hire more interns.”
Stryker, a graduate in Biochemistry from the University of Illinois-at Urbana Champaign, began working in the nutrition industry before taking an unusual turn to became a singer and producer for Los Angeles-based pop rock group Millennium. “I was lucky to attend a strong liberal arts university before this recent shift in higher education. Universities should not be looked at as job-training. It’s a once in a lifetime chance to broaden your imagination and knowledge in a safe environment. The best thing you can take away from those four years is the ability to learn.” When asked why he took such a radical turn after graduation, he replied calmly “Most people don’t know what they want to be when they go to college. In my case, I knew I wanted to do music but my parents didn’t agree. But that was fine, because I wasn’t there for job training. I was able to get a well-rounded education and write music on the side. Bottom line is this- A degree shouldn’t define a person, it should give them a higher level of freedom.”
Jeffrey, a human resources specialist for one Fortune 500 company agrees and is conflicted over the trend in higher eduation. “On the one hand, we are receiving more specifically qualified applicants for entry level positions each year. On the other hand, many of them may not have the broad-based education and creative communication skills required to take on higher level positions in the future.”