The Myth of Higher Education | Eastern North Carolina Now

    Publisher's note: This week's guest "Daily Journal" columnist is Katelynd Day, Office Manager at the John Locke Foundation.

    RALEIGH     I was surprised after I graduated from college that employers were not lining up outside my door fighting over me. That was the picture that my private, liberal-arts college depicted while I was completing my degree. When I realized that the jobs weren't there for someone with my degree, I decided to pursue an M.B.A.; again the degree did not cause a sea of job offers. The reality that a degree would not certainly result in my dream job hit me twice before I was fully aware that I had been misled.

    This harsh reality has revealed itself to many college graduates in recent years, yet students are still going into debt to earn degrees in disciplines without job opportunities due to an economic and political environment that cannot support employment. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, half of the students in the class of 2012 will find themselves unemployed or underemployed upon graduation.

    Americans exaggerate the value of higher education. I do not deny that some people excel in college and that their degrees serve them well to become gainfully employed and command high wages. However, the idea that this is the only path to success and that every single American should follow this route is highly misleading and detrimental, not only to students but to American society as a whole.

    Through primary and secondary schooling, students are flooded with ideas of opportunity, that they can do and be anything. However, the goals that they dream of are rarely balanced with reality. The earning power of a college graduate is related to the school he attends and the major he chooses. It is not impressed upon students that different choices of career paths will yield different income levels or that certain careers do not require a college degree at all. Students simply think college is necessary and do not fully consider whether or not the financial obligation can realistically be fulfilled with the job that can be obtained with the degree they earn.

    Science, education, and health fields have traditionally maintained a high demand for degree holders, but in this weak labor market, along with technological advances and foreign labor, even the prospects for these jobs are bleak. The reality is that there are more than 100,000 janitors with college degrees and 16,000 degree-holding parking attendants. The wages they earn from these low-skilled jobs cannot pay off the debt that they incurred for a degree that, in this market, cannot secure them a job.

    In this election year, both Democratic and Republican campaigns are focused on young voters. President Obama carried young voters by an overwhelming margin in 2008, but it has not been as easy for him to rally their support in 2012. Many young voters feel disenfranchised. They did not achieve the success that a degree was "supposed" to offer, and they are looking to the government for help.

    Recently, the president gave a speech at UNC-Chapel Hill, which addressed the burden that education costs are placing on college graduates, who cannot find work, and their families. His plan, also supported by Romney, is a $6.7 billion bill that would extend the 2007 cut of the Stafford Loan interest rate by half. This cut would amount to $1,000 in total interest charges for each loan being offset by government subsidy, $1,000 that will be in the minds of these young voters at the polls.

    This plan is not even a quick fix; it's a distraction that simply pushes this issue to a nonelection year. The extension of this interest rate cut does not rectify any of the issues that are causing the problem. Students will still be unemployed or underemployed with vast amounts of debt, and the taxpayers will be subsidizing the debt.

    In order to make a positive, long-lasting difference, solutions need to be focused on job creation and the acceptance of personal responsibility by students and families. It is not the government's role to create and manage career plans for students. Students should take responsibility for their own educations. They should determine the education and experience demanded for the career they wish to pursue and consider the debt versus expected earnings for particular degrees.

    This planning will allow students to pursue a practical education linked to a real job, providing both an easier time entering the work force and the resources necessary to meet their financial responsibilities.
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