(Too many American college grads know this all too well. Photo by globalneighbourhoods.net)
The latest string of news stories on colleges getting richer while students are going jobless falls to Corinthian College. A few weeks ago, it was reported that Corinthian College students are going on strike and refusing to pay back their student loans. Why? Because they paid thousands of dollars to get educated so that they could get jobs, only to find themselves unemployed and in serious debt. Which has sparked the debate, what is a university’s role in finding students’ employment?
(photo by www.pinterest.com)
With the cost of college only rising in the United States (its average as of 2012 was $20,000 US Dollars per academic year or 2 semesters) and the unemployment rate of workers under 25 years old twice that of the national average, many people are left wondering why universities aren’t helping American students to get jobs. Per the Economic Policy Institute’s 2014 report, unemployment (no job) and underemployment (when a highly skilled/ educated person takes a low skill/wage earning job) are improving, but at a snail pace. Check out these numbers below.
- For young college graduates, the unemployment rate is currently 8.5% (compared with 5.5% in 2007) and the underemployment rate is 16.8% (compared with 9.6% in 2007).
- As of March 2014, the unemployment rate of workers under age 25 was 14.5% compared to the overall unemployment rate for the nation of 6.7%
Going back to our protesting grads at Corinthian College, I can easily understand why they’re upset. The numbers don’t look good for getting a decent paying job that will use the skills and education in which they invested lots of money to attain professional success. So, we’re back at the main question: is it the university’s job to get students a job?
The Argument for No
Ever since this story broke out, internet trolls and critics have been pouring out from every crevice. Some of the most popular backlash to this story is about the students’ refusal to not pay their loans and the belief that it is the student’s job, not that of the university, to find employment post graduation. Let’s focus on the second point that it’s a student’s job to find, well, a job. This argument about students’ responsibility for their own future reminds me of the popular Confucius quote,“Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.” The lesson in this expression is that is more worthwhile to teach someone how to do something themselves than to do it for them. If universities helped students to get jobs, would students be able to get a job themselves later on? Would they appreciate the job they were given? What kind of employee would a student be if he/she were given or assigned a job by the university post graduation? How is the university able to help students get employment? There aren’t concrete answers to these questions, but I was able to brainstorm a few ideas. Here’s Andrea’s interpretation of how a university could find employment for students:
- Set up interviews with prospective employers for graduating students
- Set up work contracts with corporations and/or local employers to guarantee employment post graduation for up to 12 months for the university’s students
- Create more positions at the university which could employ up to a certain percentage of the graduating class
These might sound like great ideas, but there are two major problems with any suggestion like this: lack of responsibility / initiative on the part of the student and the cost. Having someone make sure you’re employed is taking the power out of your hands and putting it into someone else’s. With my first idea, it’s unclear if the university would be choosing the employers or if the employers would even be of the students’ choosing. It’s also unclear who would be choosing the type of position and if the position would be in the same field as the students’ majors. It’s a very hands off approach on the part of the student which shows a lack of responsibility and initiative. The second and third points would also allow students to not take any responsibility or initiative in their career, but with the added bonus of cost.
(photo by rochemamabolo.wordpress.com)
Whenever your university has an agreement or contract with a business, money (usually lots of it) is involved. Businesses would need to benefit somehow from the second point, maybe free or discounted tuition for their children, which means that you’ll be paying more to cover those students. Wasn’t the whole point of this arrangement to benefit you?
The third idea is the most costly. Remember, your tuition covers not only your professors’ salaries, but all university employees. If more jobs were created on campus than the cost of tuition would have to exponentially increase in order to make sure that x percent of the graduating body had jobs at the university. The argument for no is strong on points about personal responsibility / autonomy and cost. But, what about the argument for yes?
The Argument for Yes
To take a line from this passionate piece by Ronald Barnett, “Shouldn’t we admit that, in the modern world, higher education is just a matter of economic investment, a means of enhancing [USA] Inc, and that’s all?” Ronald says this sarcastically in his poignant article (he doesn’t really believe this), but in the USA this statement holds some validity. Americans will often say that going to college is investing in your career, your future. And, the numbers prove it! The 2002 US Census Bureau study showed that Americans with a college education earned two times more than those without one. So, since there is some truth to American college education being an investment and not just a way to better oneself, should universities be giving students more for their investment in the way of helping them find a job post graduation? Let’s take a look at a France’s VIE program which does just that and more.
The VIE (Volontariat Internationale en Entreprise) is a program created in 2001 by the French Ministry for Foreign Trade. It’s goal is to reinforce the international development of French companies, while offering young graduates an opportunity to benefit from a [formal working] experience abroad(cite it-why is it italicized-is it a quote). How it works is French /European Union college graduates between the ages of 18 – 28 sign up to work for a French company which has a location outside of France. These graduates are young professionals looking to springboard their career and tend to be marketing, engineering, science, financial, and business majors. But, what is a little disconcerting to me is that the student, although working for a company, is under the authority of the French government during the entire length (from 6-24 months) of the VIE.
My American spirit isn’t comfortable with signing myself over to Uncle Sam just to find a job post graduation. I believe that it is my responsibility to carve out my own path in life. I also can’t help but find benefits to this experience. It just seems to make sense. France is supporting French companies and French grads by connecting them in an international environment. It seems like a win-win. Until you find out that there is that pesky cost thing. You see the benefit for the French companies taking on these grads is that they can get a tax credit. I wasn’t able to find any numbers, but a tax credit means that the company is paying less taxes than they normally would. Which means that somewhere, somehow, someone is paying for those lost taxes. And, that’s what worries me. Maybe, it’s an increase in sales tax or property tax or overall income tax. Someone is paying for it somehow. It may be a personal benefit to the student, but what about its financial impact on the rest of the country?
(photo by www.download-hd-wallpapers.com)
As you can see in the argument for no, I was thinking very American. I was thinking of how universities could privately help students get a job post graduation. I didn’t even consider government intervention. But in the argument for yes, we discovered the public French VIE program. I’m a firm believer that American college is waaaaaay too expensive for universities to continue to have a hands off approach when it comes to job placement post graduation for students. But, I’m also not a fan of taking the responsibility away from students or having my taxes raised to create a government agency to help students get jobs. So, what do we do?
We start the conversation. Go to your university’s career center. Find out what services they offer to help students find a job. Talk to the Alumni office to find out the stats for graduates who found jobs post graduation in their desired field. Go to your university newspaper / blog committee and ask them to write an article on this subject. Organize a college night to get students talking (don’t forget to provide pizza!). The point is students need to start talking about the role of college and how it is too damn expensive to only enhance our minds; we need a more solid guarantee of a job post college. I don’t think it means that colleges need to assign students a job or that a new government agency needs to be created, but there has to be a better solution than the current one. So, let’s start talking!