February 12, 2014 —
In the spring of 2012, the Associated Press (AP) released a study that shocked many people. It stated that only half of the people who graduated college in the previous five years were employed full-time. That means that 50% of recent college graduates were unemployed or employed part-time. The survey caused many people to question: is it really that bad? The answer, it seems, is no. However, the situation for post-grads still isn’t good.
As a recent college graduate (I graduated from Ithaca College in 2012 with a degree in journalism), I suppose I could count myself lucky. I found a full-time job in my field within three months of graduation, and worked at a restaurant in the interim. Many people who graduated at the same time as I did struggled to find work. Some were unemployed, others worked part-time, or at a job not in their field, or one that may not even require a college degree. It had all of us questioning: is college worth the high cost?
In an article that responded to the AP report, The Atlantic assuaged my fears, and I’m sure those of countless others, by putting it all into perspective. “Unemployment for college graduates is higher than normal. Underemployment is more prevalent, though it’s less severe than college critics portray, and perhaps no worse than during the Reagan days,” writer Jordan Weissmann wrote (www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/04/how-bad-is-the-job-market-f... ).
When I looked at official numbers, I was really rather surprised. The Bureau of Labor Statistics released a report in 2012 looking at Americans under 30 who’d earned a bachelor’s degree in the previous year, as of October of 2011. About 73% were employed (the report didn’t specify between full-time and part-time); more than 11% were still looking for work. In 1994, about 87% of BAs were working either full- or part-time a year after graduation, according to the Department of Education. About 8.4% were out of the labor force, in most cases because they’d returned to school. Just 4.4% were outright unemployed.
Weissmann writes, “This part is basic, but can’t be repeated enough: bachelor’s holders have about half the unemployment rate of high school graduates. BAs are still suffering from double the low rate of joblessness they enjoyed pre-recession. And yes, they’re even worse off than they were during the tepid economies of the early nineties or pre-housing bubble oughts. But on the whole, you’d much rather have a degree in this job market than not.”
I’m sure all the post-grads who read this let out a collective sigh. However, we still face many problems.
Post-grads are often left feeling helpless in the hands of colleges, loans and jobs. It seems to me that it is up to those institutions to help and support us; we can’t do it on our own. Colleges and universities should make sure the tuition rate isn’t unbelievably high, the government and banks should make sure loans don’t have high interest rates and that post-grads will be able to pay them or defer, and it is up to our employers or future employers to make sure we are being treated and paid fairly, just like any other employee.
I understand that post-grads won’t be paid the same level as seasoned employees and that we are supposed to pay our dues and rise through the ranks, but a low salary, coupled with living expense and especially loan payments, makes that nearly impossible. If we can’t save money, where are we headed? No one wants to be bankrupt by the time they are 25. According to an article in the Huffington Post, “In 1990, the average student loan debt in this country was $8,200. By 2010, that figure had more than tripled to $25,250, according to a report by the Institute for College Access and Success” (www.huffingtonpost.com/lilly-odonnell/college-costs-loans-debt_b_1890254... ). To me, those numbers are startling.
The cost of college coupled with the cost of loan repayments is making college more and more unaffordable for the average American. Most graduates are starting their lives out in a huge amount of debt. We struggle to make payments on our student loans when we can’t find work or have low-paying jobs. A conversation about college reform has already started; now it’s time to make some changes. Let’s find solutions to help college graduates start out on the right foot.