Sunday, February 13, 2011

Why claims that college degrees have value for "alternative careers" are almost always horse puckey

College presidents, deans, and professors are very much aware that many of their students (if not most depending on the field) will not find jobs in their fields of study.  To assuage their guilt and the concerns of their students (aka meal tickets), academic and industry shills attempt to sell students on the value and promise of "alternative careers".  "Don't fret. You can do anything with a (insert major here) degree!", they exclaim.

For example, if you're slaving away in a science laboratory working towards your PhD. and lamenting the prospect of having to invest several more years afterward working as a low-paid ($30,000/year often without benefits or job security) and overworked (think 65-70 hours per week) gypsy scientist postdoctoral researcher, don't lament the lack of solid career jobs for scientists.  Look on the bright side! Now you too can pursue an alternative career!  In fact, years ago Science magazine (a very prestigious flagship publication) even started a "Science's Next Wave" website, perhaps in part or wholly to assuage graduate students' and prospective graduate students' career anxieties.  (This is important to the industry because academic science research and undergraduate teaching assistant instruction would grind to a halt without armies of science graduate students. It's a pyramid scheme.)  I haven't paid attention to Science's Next Wave for years, but if I remember correctly, in the Nineties alternative careers were regularly discussed.

In the heavily glutted legal profession we have books such as "The Lawyers Career Change Handbook: More than 300 Things You Can Do With a Law Degree".  That's just one of the many advice books aimed at unemployed and underemployed lawyers.  The legal field is so heavily glutted that the market can support several different books, such as the aptly named Alternative Careers for Lawyers.)

Almost all of the academics' and institutions' claims are bullshit.  If our nation had a glut of people in only two or three fields and shortages in many others, then the claims of wonderful alternative careers might be truthful.  However, for years, even before the recession, we have had oversupplies of college graduates in just about every field.  How are graduates supposed to find alternative white collar career jobs if graduates in almost all of the other fields are also having to pursue alternative careers?  How are you supposed to compete for a job in another field when people who majored in that field are desperately competing for those same jobs?  Thus, claims by academics that the overproduction of graduates in their fields is justified because their graduates can find alternative white collar careers in other fields are almost completely disingenuous.  Consequently, according to one study, 17 million college graduates are working in (presumably low-paying non-white collar) jobs that do not require or make real use of a college education.

Hoping that unemployed and underemployed graduates can build productive and financially rewarding lives working alternative careers is a nice gesture, but it won't address our nation's social and economic problems.  Instead, the solution is to restore some sense of market forces to higher education so that college graduate production more closely matches the real world demand.


Anonymous said...

"Instead, the solution is to restore some sense of market forces to higher education so that college graduate production more closely matches the real world demand."

This is the solution to the overproduction of college graduates, but this does nothing to address the underproduction of jobs that pay a living wage, which is the goal that most people are pursuing by going to college. It would be better for those seeking such jobs to avoid taking on the debt and opportunity cost of a college degree that won't pay off; but even being debt-free doesn't free one from the need to make a living. How are market forces going to resolve that challenge?

Anonymous said...

Unaccredited Law Student, former Cooley Kid, starting my own unaccredited Scam Blog, need help. Here is my first post. Would love a link, and your thoughts on how I can improve. You are one of my hero's! Keep fighting the ABA man!

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