When I started college in 2000, it was understood that the debts we incurred as students should be considered “investments in our future.” We would never make it out there in the real world without this college degree, and though most of us were borrowing heavily to get that degree, we were basically guaranteed to get a good job and pay it all off after graduation. The economy was growing! Nowhere to go but up! Tens of thousands in debt before you have a single day of job experience? Don’t sweat it! This is what you’re supposed to be doing!
This “downturn,” or “recession,” or “crisis,” or “economic apocalypse/collapse/zombie attack” or whatever we’re calling it these days happened. And here we are, a whole generation standing here holding our college degrees (some of us, more than one!) all ready to walk confidently out into the working world, knowing that we have followed the path to success as we were supposed to do. But instead of being the well-qualified, educated elite, we are just more faces lost in the growing multitude of job applicants, with education that outstrips our skills. Instead of highlighting our degrees, we have to disguise them, downplay them a bit and make ourselves looks a little less
educated expensive to perspective employers.
I’m still looking for a job here in PA, and so is EVERYONE ELSE IN THE WHOLE WORLD. I went to an interview for a low-level clerical job at an educational institution yesterday that started out with a “congratulations.” There were 150 applicants for this job, the interviewer told me, 3 times as many as they’d had the last time this position was vacant. But congratulations! I had made it through to an interview! I’m thrilled that the interview went well, and will be unbelievably grateful if I am hired… but I have to wonder. The ad specified that applicants just had to have a high school diploma and work experience, or equivalent education. It’s an hourly position that will likely pay less than $19k a year. It’s 9 month position. No benefits. I wonder how many other recent grads, with multiple degrees and years of work experience and student loan debts out the wazoo applied for this same job that might be worlds away from our chosen careers? But I bet every one of us would be thrilled to get it.
It’s hard for this job hunt not to overwhelm me most days. Every time I turn on the radio, they’re talking about jobs. Unemployment. How hard it is to get a job right now. And I can’t help but feel like someone sold me the Brooklyn Bridge back there somewhere. My little sister-in-law is starting to look at colleges, and I have to think hard about what advice I’m going to give her. Should I tell her to do what she loves, or major in something profitable? Should she hold out for a full ride somewhere, or be willing to pay some tuition with loans? This is a very different question than it was 10 years ago.