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by Vault Education Editors | May 26, 2011


At the Times’ Room for Debate, there’s a discussion about “downsized college graduates,” their bleak employment picture, and what counsel can be given to the recently diploma’d.

A slow recovery

Recent grads should expect the pool of jobs to be of lower quality and lower pay, writes Till von Wachter, an economist at Columbia. Many will be forced to work a service job at Starbucks because they couldn’t snag a career-type gig at Cisco. That’s called “cyclical downgrading,” in case you wanted to give a name to your shame. As you’d expect, grads of less prestigious schools and humanities majors will experience the worst earnings loss and play catch-up the longest.

Being younger longer, a benefit?

A period of “emerging adulthood” is what psychologists call the extended phase of exploration and putzing around that happens between college graduation and choosing a career—a relatively new phenomenon. It’s a new era, says Barabara Hofer a psych professor at Middlebury. Who knows, maybe it might not be such a bad thing?

Having time to experience several jobs and to explore potential careers before making some type of commitment to a professional path could be far preferable to getting locked into a career decision made when choosing a major at 18-- or what psychologists call a foreclosed identity.

More enterprising, more entrepreneurial 

Today’s graduates have till now experienced a world carved out by their parents just for them, for their own certain, ineluctable success, writes Hara Estroff Marano, editor of Psychology Today. The road, once straight and clear, has become a mess of pot holes, detours and traffic jams. What to do? Take a different road:

In the face of declining job offers, what's needed is a more enterprising, entrepreneurial attitude—if no one is going to hand them jobs, then they need to start thinking about making their own. But formal and informal studies show that innovation and calculated risk-taking are on the decline among the young, who increasingly demand structure, direction, certainty in their coursework and have no tolerance for making mistakes, despite the increasing uncertainty of the world we all inhabit. This is a generation that has embraced no-risk learning, wanting to know in advance exactly what will be on their tests and having little tolerance even for classroom discussions. Innovation is where new jobs will come from. Sure, a lot of hard work is required, but the payoffs are potentially bigger than even the best job they could get.

What’s black and white and re(a)d all over?

College students these days likely have no shot at getting that joke. Because they don’t read the news, according to the author of “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses,” Richard Arum, who says that colleges are failing to prepare our students academically and socially. No excuses though! writes Arum.

Regardless of whether young adults can any longer find employment listings from perusing such outlets, as a democratic society we will likely not be able to confront and overcome our country's difficult challenges with an educated class that fails to even bother regularly consulting a newspaper.

Broken American dream
“Given the harsh economic realities, it is not surprising that students are pessimistic about their ability to achieve the American dream and do better financially than those who came before them,” writes Carl E. Van Horn, a public policy professor at Rutgers.” 

Work hard, get a college degree, use that degree as your ticket to a successful career. Or so it was sold. The social contract young grads believed in, were taught not to question, has been broken. A little rage and disappointment are appropriate here, says Van Horn.



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