Don’t Jump Ship Just Yet

Today my friend Matt has posted on his blog a metaphorical comparison between the sinking Titanic and the system of higher education in America. This was practically guaranteed to get a reaction from me, and it worked. I responded to Matt with a comment, he responded to my comment, and now I’m “involved.” Ah me.


In any rate, the whole thing has gotten me researching things like the value and effectiveness of a college education. We hear about how expensive college is and how college grads are having a tough time putting their education to work. So I came across some statistics that I’d like to discuss just a bit. Here’s a table from the Bureau of Labor Statistics:


(Or you can go here to see the table for yourself, live, online.)


The first thing I see is that the unemployment rate among college grads is less than half of what it is for high school grads. (3.2% for college grads compared to 6.5% for high school grads). Now if I came up with an invention that could cut the unemployment rate in half, wouldn’t that get your attention? No really. Stop and think about it. We hear every month about the high level of unemployment in the country, and if it falls from 6.7% to 6.6% we hear story after story about how the economy is improving. But what if we could present a program or an invention or something that would drive the unemployment rate from 6.5% to 3.2%? Wouldn’t that be worthy of celebration and a whole lot of hoopla? I think it would be world-shattering news! And that’s exactly what we’ve got with the higher education system in this country.


Look in the table at the differences between the top rows (high school dropouts), down to the second set of rows (high school graduates) to the next set of rows (some college) to the bottom set of rows (college graduates). Every set of rows indicates more and more education. Every set of rows indicates more and more success in the job market. Simply put – education gives you an advantage, and the more education you have, the more of an advantage you have. The biggest “bump” (percentage-wise) comes from actually completing college and getting that degree.


I’ve heard it said, and yes, it is a cliché, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” It may be a cliché, and it may be trite, but it is still true.


2 thoughts on “Don’t Jump Ship Just Yet

  1. So, because someone is employed, it justifies $50,000 to $100,000+ in student debt. If you are in academia chances are you know that taking a single statistic / set of statistics and lacking broad conclusions from it can be a very dangerous game. While, these stats paint a nice rosy picture of the benefits of a college education, they ignore glaring problems. Here are a few:
    As already mentioned, most college graduates leave college with huge student loan debt. These loans usually take decades to pay off. Meanwhile the jobs most people can get with their education these days don’t pay enough to compensate for the student loan payments.
    While the unemployment levels for graduates are higher (can’t afford to be jobless due to loans), how many of those employed graduates are actually underemployed? What does underemployed mean, and what does it have to do with these stats? Great question! Underemployed is when the job someone has requires a lower education level than what they have attained. Think, someone with a BS in communication working at a Wendy’s drive through and you get a rough idea.
    Now a counter argument is to look at what percentage of graduates has a job in their field. This again in the area of the education system is a false flag. After all, someone with a BS in business who works as a shift manager at Wendy’s has a job in their field of study. Yet somehow, this scenario is evidence that a higher education institution has been successful, and the school can pat itself on the back and show with pride how they have benefited their allumni who are now living in squalor and unable to pay their debt.
    This hits home for me personally because I have education and/or degrees in three fields of study including an MA in counseling. Since my final graduation 11 years ago I have been fully employed 2.5 of those years. The rest of that time I have been at best underemployed, and currently I am helping a middle-school friend of mine run his small business. I have no criminal record, and almost a perfect job history (I was let go once from a business that couldn’t afford to keep me on). I have about stopped looking for a job at my education level for many reasons. One of which is that while my degree meant something in the state I achieved it, it means very little in the state I grew up in… something no one thinks to tell you when they are trying to recruit you to their school.

    Edujamese, it’s nice to see you playing an almost useless statistic so well. Maybe it time to step out of academia and take a look at the real world. You know, the one ALL of your students have to live in. Not just those few stars from each graduating class.

    • JCMasterpiece – your story is a painful one, and I am sad to hear it. You make an excellent point about underemployment.

      My comments and my use of the statistics had one purpose: to warn people who might be tempted to take Matt’s advice and “jump ship” (quit college?) that that could be a bad decision. The odds are much better for a person with a higher education. That’s what the stats show, and that’s what I wanted to say. “Your mileage may vary” is a catchy way of saying that stats and your own situation are two very different things. I hear you saying that your situation isn’t helped by the stats. I get that. But I will continue to insist that the stats do mean something. Stats represent the collective experience of many, many people. Not everyone, but many, many. When a person is making a big decision such as whether or not to “jump ship” in regard to their college education, they should take these stats into consideration.

      Oh, and I know something about what I’m speaking about, because I did, in fact drop out of college in 1973 after completing two years of a 4-year program.

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