… or not nearly what those who endorse it claim. Far too many social theorists, educators, and politicians push more education, especially higher education, as a solution to the problem of too many people who are poor or economically disadvantaged. The President’s latest initiative of wanting to provide free community college education is certainly well-intentioned, but, even if enacted, which frankly appears doubtful, would at best only provide marginal improvement. From what I can tell, the push for more higher education is based on two undeniable facts. First, in general, people with more education make more money. Second, more and more of the highest-paid salaried jobs demand higher education as a prerequisite for entry and employment.
Unhappily, very few people seem to be looking at the other side of the equation – jobs. There are only so many high-level, high paying jobs in any society, and American business has been quite busy reducing the number of decent-paying mid-level jobs. If we as a society continue to produce more and more graduates of traditional higher education every year, what is the likely result? More competition for those jobs, more unemployed or underemployed graduates, and most likely an eventual reduction in pay.
In my wife’s field, which is classical voice and opera, the United States produces more graduate singers, especially sopranos, in a year than jobs for them are created in roughly more than five years… and does so every year. The result is that competition for those jobs is absolutely brutal, and that the pay, until a singer reaches the very top tier, which only a fraction of a percent do, ranges from abysmal to modest. The other day I was talking to the conductor of a fairly well-known Russian symphony, and he observed that the United States has, overall, the best training and education for singers of any nation… and that even some of the very best end up taking jobs in Europe because there are so few openings in the United States.
Despite or perhaps because of all the MFA programs that profess to teach writers, the same thing is true in the field of writing, except since the U.S. is effectively the largest single market for fiction, there are few alternatives.
Now, the lack of remuneration in the arts, except for a comparatively small percentage of success stories, has always been a fact of life, but it’s even more noticeable now.
What’s different is that we’re also beginning to see gluts in other fields. The number of moderate and high-paying jobs for lawyers has decreased even as law schools produce more graduates. There are more job seekers in health care than there are jobs, with the possible exception of doctors, and most of the openings for physicians are in small towns, inner cities, or rural areas. There is far higher unemployment, according to a recent article in The Atlantic, among scientists and engineers than is recognized, far higher than in professions such as physicians, dentists, and registered nurses, and surprisingly high unemployment exists for recent graduates even in fields with alleged serious “shortages” such as engineering (7.0 percent), computer science (7.8 percent) and information systems (11.7 percent).
Half the twenty-two year old college graduates over the past three years are working in jobs not requiring a degree. Only 27% of all U.S. jobs require a college degree, but now some 47% of the workforce has a college degree, and the number of jobs requiring such a degree is forecast to grow by less than one percent per year.
The problem isn’t just one of education, and, in fact, education may be making the problem even worse for those with only a high school diploma – or less – as over-educated graduates continue to push the less educated into less and less remunerative fields.