“What’s your major?”
“What do you want to do with that?”
“I don’t know.”
“I don’t know.” That answer seems all too common among millennials. We all don’t have a clue. At least this person was better off than I was when I entered North Carolina State University back in 2007. My major? Undecided, or, as NCSU calls it, “First Year College.” This doesn’t seem strange to many people; in fact, it is often the norm. Young people graduating high school don’t know what they want to do so they go to college because it’s what they feel they are supposed to do.
Four years later students graduate and attempt to find a job. Unemployment for recent grads remains well over 10% according to the BLS, not to mention underemployment. Meanwhile thousands of jobs in STEM fields go unfilled, many of them related to Computer Science.
We have kids who can’t make up their minds going into college, and kids who can’t find jobs coming out of college, yet we continue to feed the cycle by giving government backed loans to finance this process.
Many have written about student loan debt and it is a great threat to the millennial generation. We are saddled by debt both public and private. We hold over $1 trillion in student loans and bear the cost of our parents’ and grandparents’ social security, medicare, and medicaid.
Ladies and gentlemen, we need to get serious about this now. The problem is big, it’s tough, but it’s not insurmountable. There are steps we can take that will begin to move us in the right direction:
- Stop promoting a four year degree path (as the only path). Every time I hear a politician talk about education they touch on increasing the number of kids attending four year universities. While this might be great for universities’ prestige and professors’ salaries, it isn’t good for the people. Yes we do need to do a better job preparing those who want to attend a four year university, but when we act like it is the only path available you denigrate those who make other life choices. We need to prepare young men and women to be successful, and that means more than just sending them off to a university to be saddled with debt and dubious job prospects. Exploring opportunities by taking classes or obtaining a technical degree at a community college is just one way to save money and help a student decide on a potential career path.
- End the blanket of cheap credit. There are no market indicators in higher education (IE interest rates are flat), but there certainly should be. Remember that housing crisis where the government offered cheap credit for no real reason other than political gamesmanship? Well, it’s the same thing here. Would fewer people go to college? Yes, but we need to face reality: not everyone needs a four year degree. Today one in six waiters, bartenders, or secretaries have a four year degree. Imagine if in-demand degrees offered lower rates on loans. It wouldn’t prohibit those who want to pursue their passion, but it would help send signals to those who need help finding their way.
- Embrace online learning. The other day a WSJ article was sent to me pointing out the growth of online education. The writer noted that this provides great opportunity for keeping education costs down as the cost of education has risen at 4x inflation. He goes on to explain how Georgia Tech is instituting a Computer Science graduate program that can be completed online. While this is revolutionary, we need to make sure that we are embracing online education at all levels of teaching. Technology gives me optimism with Kahn Academy, iTunes U, Sugar Labs, and similar outlets learning is cheaper, easier and always challenging!
These are just a few ways that we can begin to take a bite out of the massive challenge ahead. The crucial part is that we begin to address this now, before this balloon bursts. We can look to Spain, Egypt, and Iran for countries with a highly-educated populous, but massive unemployment. Taking these few steps in education will help bring more people into the workforce with skills that are actually desired by the employers before we end up in a similar situation ourselves.