College Isn’t Paying Off For Everyone

College is an experience that’s different for everyone. Some students focus on their future and spend their nights and weekends at the library. Others join a fraternity or sorority and explore the more social aspect of college life. Others play a sport and spend most of their time in the gym. And then there are a few that leave campus every weekend, hoping to snag themselves a cute girl named Jill and make her their wife. (I think you can guess which one I recommend).
No matter how different our college experiences, it’s likely we can all agree on one thing: college is expensive. Not just the tuition, but the room and board, school supplies, food, beer . . . I mean, books; and oftentimes it just isn’t possible to hold down a job while keeping up with your studies. Most of us understand that college is unbelievably expensive, but we believe it’s worth it, right? A graduate leaves with a college education, with a good first job, and with the chance to start a career after graduation.
Well, some college grads aren’t feeling like the expense was worth it, with good job prospects slim, and the pay for those jobs even slimmer. Despite the cost of college continuing to skyrocket, the salaries offered to graduates are not keeping up at the same pace.
I was recently reading a joint study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce in Washington. The data showed that, since the 2007-2009 recession, wages for these college grads have actually dropped, on average (using Census bureau figures).
Of course, different college experiences can lead to very different landscapes after graduation. Some majors, specifically a few different engineering majors, have paid out more than $60,000 a year since 2009. Other majors, specifically those in the business and science departments, have seen average starting wages drop around 10 percent in that same time. (I know what majors I’m going to start steering my girls toward—they will all be getting my old engineering textbooks for Christmas this year).
We’ve always been told that having a college degree is supposed to give young folks a leg up in the work world, but many bachelor’s degrees don’t seem to have that effect. I was speaking to a family friend who gradated a year ago with a marketing degree and is still searching for a job. She mentioned that her frustration is because even those job postings saying “entry level,” usually still say 3 to 5 years of experience is needed for consideration. She said she does not know how she will ever get 3 to 5 years of experience, if no one will hire her without it.
In my opinion, this post-graduation job struggle shows that having a degree is not always enough. Much of a graduate’s success in the work world will come from the way in which he or she earned that degree. What was the GPA? Was the job applicant in the honor society, or any other reputable association? What internships and summer jobs did he or she have to help further his or her education? For example, it might be nice to come home from college in the summers and sit on the beach working as a life guard, but for a business major, an internship as an assistant for a local small business owner might be more advantageous when helping to land that job after graduation.
It’s also important for a college student to focus on what he or she really wants to do after college. Finding a job that a graduate likes and that is within the realm of his or her major is hard enough, but getting four years of college education in English studies, and then trying to get a job at a financial firm is even harder.
After graduation, when many grads are mid-job search, one of the biggest challenges they face is fighting for a salary they deserve. Many new college grads, who have just spent the last four years paying, rather than earning, are excited about the prospect of having a job and the paycheck that comes with it. Rather than settling for the first offer that comes along, every job applicant should research to figure out what the average salary is for the position they are applying for. And when they do talk numbers, job applicants should explain what they are worth and support their argument with specific reasons. Lastly, when grads are discussing salary, they should make sure not to get baited into throwing out the first number, because they will likely undersell themselves.
College is supposed to be a time when young adults learn how to turn their passion into a career, but often, post-graduation, their passion is turned into frustration. But, I will offer the same advice to these young folks that I often do to my Cutter Family Finance readers: Be vigilant and stay alert, because our kid’s futures deserve more.
All of us at Cutter Financial wish you and your families a very happy Easter and Passover!