The Commencement Address That Won't Be Given
Robert B. Reich
As a former secretary of labor and current professor, I feel I owe it to you to tell you the truth about the pieces of parchment you're picking up today.
Well, not exactly. But you won't have it easy.
First, you're going to have a hell of a hard time finding a job. The job market you're heading into is still bad. Fewer than half of the graduates from last year's class have as yet found full-time jobs. Most are still looking.
That's been the pattern over the last three graduating classes: It's been taking graduates more than a year to land the first job. And those who still haven't found a job will be competing with you, making your job search even harder.
Contrast this with the class of 2008, whose members were lucky enough to get out of here and into the job market before the Great Recession really hit. Almost three-quarters of them found jobs within the year.
You're still better off than your friends who didn't graduate. Overall, the unemployment rate among young people (21 to 24 years old) with four-year college degrees is now 6.4 percent. With just a high school degree, the rate is double that.
But even when you get a job, it's likely to pay peanuts.
Last year's young college graduates lucky enough to land jobs had an average hourly wage of only
Presumably this means that when we come out of the gravitational pull of the recession your wages will improve. But there's a longer-term trend that should concern you. The decline in the earnings of college grads really began more than a decade ago. Young college grads with jobs are earnings 5.4 percent less than they did in the year 2000, adjusted for inflation.
Don't get me wrong. A four-year college degree is still valuable. Over your lifetimes, you'll earn about 70 percent more than people who don't have the pieces of parchment you're picking up today.
But this parchment isn't as valuable as it once was. So much of what was once considered "knowledge work" -- the kind that college graduates specialize in -- can now be done more cheaply by software. Or by workers with college degrees in
For many of you, your immediate problem is that pile of debt on your shoulders. In a few moments, when you march out of here, those of you who have taken out college loans will owe more than
Outstanding student debt now totals over
The extraordinary rise in student debt is due to two related facts: The cost of a college education continues to increase faster than inflation, and state and local spending per college student continues to drop -- this year reaching a 25-year low.
But this can't go on. If unemployment stays high for many years, if the wages of young college grads continue to fall, if the costs of college continue to rise and state and local spending per college student continues to drop, and if the college debt burden therefore continues to explode -- well, you do the math.
At some point in the not-too-distant future these lines cross. College is no longer a good investment.
That's a problem for you and for those who will follow you into these hallowed halls, but it's also a problem for America as a whole.
You see, a college education isn't just a private investment. It's also a public good. This nation can't be competitive globally, nor can we have a vibrant and responsible democracy, without a large number of well-educated people.
So it's not just you who are burdened by these trends. If they continue, we're all screwed.
- The Commencement Address That Won't Be Given
- College, Loans and the Road to Success
- Avoid 5 Assumptions About College Financial Aid
- Engagement Is Key to Community College Success
- Computer Science Transitions From Elective to Requirement
- Future in Politics Less Desirable Among Today's Pre-Law Students
- College Student Leaders Divided on Benefits of Student Government
- 6 Resume Writing Tips for Business School Grads
- LinkedIn Transforms Job Search for M.B.A. Graduates
- Some Teens Start College Work Early Via Dual Enrollment
- How to Get In: Georgia Institute of Technology College of Management
- How to Get In: Purdue University Krannert School of Management
- How to Get In: Tulane University A. B. Freeman School of Business
- How to Get In: University of Texas-Austin McCombs School of Business
- More Schools Debut Tuition Guarantee Programs
- New Three-Year Degree Programs Trim College Costs
- Free Online Classes May Help MBA Students
- Avoid Social Media MBAs, Some Students Say
- Starving Public Universities Shrinks the Middle Class
- 5 Shocking Facts About Student Loan Debt
- 7 Steps to Success at Community College
- 4 Tips to Finish Community College
- 5 Tips for Choosing an M.B.A. Concentration
- 3 Steps to Take if Your College Student Fails a Class
- Information Security MBA's Teach Business Side of Cybersecurity
- Obama to High-Priced Universities: 'You're on Notice'
- Tips to Overcome a Bad Grade in College
- Look Out for These Federal Aid Changes in 2012
- The Evolution of American Higher Education
- Consider This Before You Pay for an Online Degree
- Time Management Tips for Online Students
- Weighing Costs of an Online Master's in Nursing
- 3 Career Reasons Why Students Get Online MBAs
- Waste Of Time For Business Students to Take Courses on Government
Copyright © 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.