‘What 17 Million Americans Got From a College Degree’

Ben Casnocha, young author and entrepreneur, highlighted some illuminating (and devastating) numbers on higher education from Richard Vedder’s post at the Chronicle last week. Among them:

Over 317,000 waiters and waitresses have college degrees (over 8,000 of them have doctoral or professional degrees), along with over 80,000 bartenders, and over 18,000 parking lot attendants. All told, some 17,000,000 Americans with college degrees are doing jobs that the BLS says require less than the skill levels associated with a bachelor’s degree. . . .

Putting issues of student abilities aside, the growing disconnect between labor market realities and the propaganda of higher-education apologists is causing more and more people to graduate and take menial jobs or no job at all. This is even true at the doctoral and professional level – there are 5,057 janitors in the U.S. with Ph.D.’s, other doctorates, or professional degrees.

Casnocha writes:

For hundreds of thousands of Americans, spending four years and untold amounts of money (and debt?) gets you a job as a waiter, parking lot attendant, or janitor. Yet everyone from Barack Obama to Bill Gates keep pushing a college education as the way to secure one’s economic future. That is a view that should be heavily qualified.

I would guess that of those 17 million, most probably suffered directly or indirectly from their institutions’ lack of rigorous core curriculum. At the typical university (i.e., institutions that are not trade- or vocation-specific), many arrive ambivalent about their area of study, lack human-level direction, and end up graduating with a degree reflective of their ambivalence. A degree in media studies or gender sociology, for example, typically has pretty limited utility.

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