The Occupy Wall Street protests have reintroduced a recurring character in our national economic drama: the struggling young college graduate. Every time the economy goes south, we hear from the Harvard-educated bartender, the taxi driver with a master’s degree in art history, or the philosophy major who’s moved back in with his parents, shipping out résumé after fruitless résumé. As Ezra Klein recounts in the Washington Post, many of the Occupy Wall Street protesters cite their college loans as a source of their grievances: “College debt represents a special sort of betrayal. We told you that the way to get ahead in America was to get educated. You did it. And now you find yourself in the same place, but buried under debt. You were lied to.”
Lost in this rhetoric is any suggestion that it is the education system — the schools that charged all that money and then provided little by way of marketable skills in return — that let these young people down. There’s plenty of criticism for corporations that aren’t hiring and banks that are calling to collect their loans, but don’t the institutions that failed to prepare students for the world of work deserve part of the blame? Some of these talented people would no doubt have been better served by an education more directly tied to the jobs they so desperately need.