August 7, 2022

Economix: Struggling College Graduates

Sally Cameron has an Ivy League graduate degree, and yet found herself tending bar. Mel Rodenstein earned a master’s degree in international affairs but was working in a “mindless” clerk’s job, eating rice and beans to save money.

Then there was the young woman who attended a good public university only to spend the first year after college driving around North America, with a friend and fellow struggling graduate. “There are no jobs anyway,” the woman said.

All of these college graduates could have appeared in recent newspaper stories bemoaning the fate of college graduates. Yet they appeared in similar stories that ran years ago — 1982 in Ms. Cameron’s and Mr. Rodenstein’s case and 1993 in the case of the young women on the road trip.

So Kevin Carey, an education writer and policy analyst, did something brilliant. He tracked down the graduates to see what had become of them. He has written about his findings in The New Republic:

[Mr. Rodenstein] went on to a series of nonprofit management jobs and, by 2010, was a senior research project supervisor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Health…. Today, one of the [two road trippers] lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, and runs her own H.R. consulting firm. The other got a PhD and works 20 feet away from this author in a Washington, DC think tank.

Sally Cameron, meanwhile, isn’t tending bar anymore. She’s a senior manager at an international development consulting company that works under contract with USAID. Her recent work includes building railroads in cyclone-devastated Madagascar….

In other words, they all turned out pretty well. They were no doubt damaged by the downturn into which they graduated. But they turned out vastly better than most people of their generation who didn’t get a college degree. Today, in fact, you could probably use a couple of them to illustrate a very different trend: the growing gap in the pay between college graduates and everyone else.

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Mr. Carey again:

For going on four decades, the press has been raising alarms that college degrees may no longer be a sound investment. Two things about these stories have remained constant: They always feature an over-educated bartender, and they are always wrong.

I recommend the whole article. It’s more clever than my summary can convey. It’s also a good example of persuasive writing.

If you’re interested in more on the subject, Catherine Rampell and I have each written related posts recently.

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