Saturday, May 15, 2010

Slashdot News Story | Too Many College Graduates?

Slashdot News Story | Too Many College Graduates?

I'm a big proponent of not forcing people through college. The problem is the lack of economic diversity now.

Think about this from a historical perspective:

  • 100 years ago, only the wealthy and very intelligent went to college, and it was considered a life experience. The intelligent went on to become academics, and the wealthy would inherit their parents' business or land, so an immediate employment payoff wasn't really necessary. Everyone else went into a skilled or unskilled trade. Either they farmed, or started an apprenticeship as a carpenter, plumber, etc.
  • 50 years ago, college was still pretty much reserved for the smartest of the bunch. Thanks to union labor, and a very large manufacturing base, there was no problem if you weren't college material. If you worked your butt off, you would get paid a living wage in a factory and have a career progression that ensured your earnings kept up with your life-stage. If you were college material, a huge number of white-collar jobs opened up in large companies, and those tended to be very stable too. So, whether you were college material or you weren't, you were still covered. Academic life, or vocational school, you still came out OK.
  • 20-25 years ago, the bottom fell out of manufacturing, and with it went all the reasonably comfortable factory jobs. Suddenly, you couldn't get a decent job that paid a living wage. Because of this and an idea that "I dont' want my kid working in a factory forever," people started getting forced through college. At the same time, a lot of those white collar jobs went away too. There was a time where middle managers were required just to route reports around to people, and typing/secretarial work was way more important than it is now. With the advent of the PC and email, who needs hundreds of staff to process paper? So around the late 80s/early 90s, the downsizing began. Edna from the typing pool who worked at IBM for 20 years was suddenly out of a job. Because of both the blue and white collar job loss, people went back to school for retraining or higher degrees.
  • Today, there are even fewer low-skilled jobs out there, and almost none in the private sector offer union protection. So, when a mediocre high school student gets to 12th grade, he has 2 choices:
    • Work in a very unstable service job for not much more than minimum wage. Hope that you can string enough of these jobs together to fill a 45 year career.
    • Struggle through college, have a mountain of debt, and maybe you'll find work in some company.

    And oh yeah, every job above service-level requires a bachelors' degree now. So the office receptionist needs a degree in communications, and the HVAC guy needs a degree in engineering.

This really is the dirty little secret of globalization. Some people just are NOT built for further study. There is a normal distribution of IQ. These people can often do a great job as a general contractor, skilled tradesman, etc. Instead, we force-feed everyone into the white collar world. It makes no sense. And for those who really do want the life experience, and are built for further study, they either have to deal with lower-skilled peers holding up college classes, or go to a private school and rack up mountains of debt for no guaranteed payoff.

I really think our leaders need to take a step back and see that a country that can do nothing but manage projects and do other white collar tasks isn't healthy. I'm in the IT field, and I'm decent at what I do. But I also realized as I was getting my degree that I wasn't sailing through the material like my peers. Every grade I got, I worked hard for. Maybe 50 years ago, I would have been better off taking on an electrician's apprenticeship or something similar. Bottom line is that the lopsided economy we have is not good for society, and everyone's addicted to cheap labor, so there's not much to do about it.

No comments: