Digging More College Debt

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

Both presidential candidates have endorsed making more money available for college loans. They may want to contemplate whether they are solving a crisis or contributing to one.

“President Obama went after the college vote Tuesday, pitching cheaper student loans as he courted the one group where he has a decided advantage over Republican rival Mitt Romney,” Ben Feller reported for the Associated Press on April 24, 2012. “The twist?”

“Romney, too, has endorsed the idea, though it’s unclear whether deficit-leery Republicans in Congress will go along.” The budget deficit isn’t the only chasm that the GOP may want to cogitate over in evaluating the proposal.

Both underclassmen and veteran policymakers may want to consider whether the added outlays promise any payoffs for college graduates as they face a phantom job market. “The college class of 2012 is in for a rude welcome to the world of work,” Hope Yen reported earlier this month, also for the AP. “A weak labor market already has left half of young college graduates either jobless or underemployed in positions that don’t fully use their skills and knowledge.”

“Young adults with bachelor’s degrees are increasingly scraping by in lower-wage jobs — waiter or waitress, bartender, retail clerk or receptionist, for example — and that’s confounding their hopes a degree would pay off despite higher tuition and mounting student loans.”

As Yen shows, the outlook is not universally dim, but the opportunities are not necessarily where the graduates are. “While there’s strong demand in science, education and health fields, arts and humanities flounder,” Yen reports. “Median wages for those with bachelor’s degrees are down from 2000, hit by technological changes that are eliminating midlevel jobs such as bank tellers.”

“Most future job openings are projected to be in lower-skilled positions such as home health aides, who can provide personalized attention as the U.S. population ages.”

“I don’t even know what I’m looking for,” Michael Bledsoe, a recent graduate working in a Seattle coffeehouse. “The 23-year-old graduated in 2010 with a creative writing degree,” Yen informs us.

Academics, naturally, are trying to put the best spin on it that they can. “David Neumark, an economist at the University of California-Irvine, said a bachelor’s degree can have benefits that aren’t fully reflected in the government’s labor data,” Yen reports. “He said even for lower-skilled jobs such as waitress or cashier, employers tend to value bachelor’s degree-holders more highly than high-school graduates, paying them more for the same work and offering promotions.”

For its part, George Washington University’s law school is updating its approach with its own plans A & B. “Law schools across the country have sought to better prepare students for a dwindling legal job market that demands budding lawyers be ready to jump into practice,” Josh Griffith reported in The GW Hatchet on April 23, 2012. “The push to bring students closer also addresses calls for administrators to take on mental health issues that have swept law students nationwide.”

Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.

If you would like to comment on this article, e-mail mal.kline@academia.org.