It’s been drilled into the caverns of our mind since we were kids: go to college, get a practical degree, get money. This mentality is an infectious one; after all, going to college does correlate with a higher salary, right? What happens when a college degree is just another meaningless piece of paper?
Before we analyse the outcome of college degrees, let’s look at the trend. According to statista.com, 35.3% of women and 34.6% of men in the United States earned a bachelor’s degree in 2018, up from 23.6% and 27.8% respectively in 2000. This is matched by an alarming outcome; the number of graduates that are underemployed (in jobs that don’t require a college degree) has only increased since 2000.
In other words, more people are getting degrees which maintain the same value over time. This trend has been named “degree inflation”, and it threatens to completely shift the dynamic of education in the future.
It doesn’t stop there: median earnings for recent grads were no higher in 2018 than they were in 2000, when 18.5% less people were receiving degrees. This sets the context for a world in which a college degree means little more than a high school degree.
This phenomenon is so deeply engrained into society that entire companies have been formed which absorb misplaced college degree holders into their workforce. Uber, an extremely popular ride sharing app, has a database of nearly 4 million drivers. Not surprisingly, half of these people have college degrees.
Google has also switched their strategies after years of research which reveals little to no value in hiring based off of college GPA or even completion of a degree. In fact, Google has begun to realise that four years of college is time wasted that could be spent learning at the company itself.
In a New York Times interview on the topic, senior Vice President of people operations at Google, Laszlo Bock, states, “after two or three years, your ability to perform at Google is completely unrelated to how you performed when you were in school, because the skills you required in college are very different. You’re also fundamentally a different person. You learn and grow, you think about things differently.” Big name companies that are often flaunted by colleges are now moving away from universities, which will have a monumental effect on the future of hiring in the United States.
Also, many of the highest paying majors out of college, such as petroleum engineering and mathematics/computer science, have some of the highest unemployment rates. These jobs are highly sought after, but there are only so many spots that can be filled. Competition will only increase as more people graduate from college.
In conversations with SAS colleagues, I hear talk about college and careers with each contemplation of our post-graduate futures. Senior Dhruv Kadam states, “I don’t know what I want to do after college,” but that “my parents expect a healthy salary”. Although this number game comes from a place of love, it often forces students down life paths that they may not have taken otherwise. Also, if the student decides to change majors in college, this can lengthen the amount of time they are in college and cost the family more money in the long run.
It is no doubt that the competitive culture at SAS breeds academic success, but at what cost? Across all grade levels, students feel the pressure not just to succeed, but to do better than their peers. This contributes to a society filled with fake relationships and “passion projects” that exist only to boost somebody’s college application.
SAS is not the main culprit when it comes to this trend, though. In fact, it has made efforts to push back, implementing more alternative programs such as Quest and Catalyst and straying away from rigidly structured AP classes in favour of more flexible AT’s.
The fact that these issues can still be found at SAS despite the school’s efforts at combatting them shows the broadness of this mindset.
As students make the transition from high school onward, they should consider the negative effects of this mindset. If we are going to fix these problems, we need to look into alternative education options and pursue more meaningful, focused paths.