Thursday, March 24, 2016

B.A. or B.S. – Undereducated

As post-high school tuition continues to fly upwards way above any semblance of the cost of living increase, and as financial aid opportunities and sources are drying up faster than a California farm deeply embedded in drought, the polarization that seems to have redefined every aspect of American life clearly extends to education. The commercial world has all but relegated those without even a high school degree – a status that applies to huge segments of our inner city drop-out mills – to a lifetime of hopeless poverty and dependence on government support or resort to illegal activities. Those who’ve earned their high school degree (or G.E.D.), but not much more, face dead-end jobs with limited prospects in a society that is automating them to the bottom tier of earning power and economic stability.
Trade schools and community colleges, to the extent they teach immediately relevant skills that are in demand, are clearly producing better, practical results, often eclipsing even those with superior bachelor degrees. And notwithstanding a steady trend towards automating even high-end professional skills (see my February 21st blog, Well-Educated Professionals and Automation), today’s job market has effectively moved those with most bachelor degrees to the ubiquitous educational status accorded to those with high school degrees a generation ago. Master degrees have become what bachelor degrees used to be. And most of the new jobs created since the end of the great recession for those without those higher degrees are either part of the uncertain “gig” economy or just plain lower-paying jobs with relatively little chance for advancement.
“Nearly a third (32%) of employers are bumping up education requirements for new hires. According to a new survey from CareerBuilder, 27% are recruiting those who hold master’s degrees for positions that used to only require four-year degrees, and 37% are hiring college grads for positions that had been primarily held by those with high school diplomas.
“CareerBuilder conducted a nationwide online survey that culled responses from over 2,300 hiring and human resource managers across different industries in the private sector… Their responses revealed that employers pushing their education requirements toward higher degrees are doing so across all levels of their companies. The majority of employers (61%) say they are looking for more educated candidates at the mid-level skill level, but 46% are looking to hire better educated candidates at entry level and 43% think the same for 
higher levels.”, March 17th.
You can see the obvious amplification of polarization on access to this higher level of education: those whose families can afford the burden of this extra-level of education produce another generation of elites with higher earning power. This inherent unfairness is helping to institutionalize class distinction, but it is just a fact of life.
“This comes at a time when the cost of a four-year college degree is out of reach for the average American family. But employers argue that a tight job market and evolving need for different skills are making it necessary. For example, 60% of employers who were satisfied with hiring high school graduates in the past claimed their work requires the skills held by those who have completed higher education.
“And even though the U.S. unemployment rate is at a historic low, more than half (56%) of employers said they are able to get college graduates for positions. Indeed a 2015 report revealed that about 2.8 million university graduates (holding bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D degrees) entered the workforce, but millennials account for about 40% of unemployed American workers. The worst off were those between the ages of 21-25.
“Although the cost is exorbitant, a four-year degree still translates to a better earning potential than just a high school diploma. A recent Pew Research study found that high school graduates earn about 62% of what those with four-year degrees earn. That’s evolved since 1979, when people with only high school educations earned 77% of what college graduates made.
“Employers told CareerBuilder that higher education not only increases an applicant’s chance of getting hired, but it helps boost the chance they’ll be promoted down the road. Thirty-six percent of employers reported that they would be unlikely to promote someone who doesn’t have a college degree.” So unless we can figure out a different way to pay for college, not only are we killing upward social mobility (reflected in a contracting middle class), we are simply editing hope out of the equation. And we wonder where all this populist anger fueling this presidential race is coming from?
I’m Peter Dekom, and if we care about our society, we need to start leveling the playing for everyone or risk losing it.

No comments: