Even Ivy League graduates have to settle for serial internships.
NEW YORK – Margot’s parents were wealthy enough to pay for her four years at Columbia University.
The young woman, who graduated in May 2011 with a bachelor's degree in economics and mathematics went through a grueling job search, which left her disillusioned. She was hoping for job in business development, the perfect job for young graduates, a mix of business and innovation.
She knocked on the doors of banks and start-ups, where all she found were internships that paid around $600 a month. For a year and a half, she lived mostly on babysitting jobs and private tutoring to high school students.
Graduating from Columbia, an Ivy League school – one of the best American universities – proved to be handicap in her job search. “Employers thought I would cost too much, or I wouldn’t agree to stay on a low salary for very long.”
Also, she says: “the jobs offered were at lower salaries than they used to be and the other candidates were unemployed people with three to five years professional experience. With nothing else than my degree, I didn’t stand a chance.”
Although this situation is not unusual for a French graduate, it is a new phenomenon in the U.S., where youth unemployment was virtually unknown before the crisis.
Tired of alternating unemployment and menial jobs, Margot threw in the towel and went to work for her mom, a real-estate agent. Her mom says: “Paying $200,000 so that your child, a university graduate can’t find a job, or a job that pays $30,000 a year, economically, it does not make sense.”
This is a new trend in the U.S. – youth unemployment, particularly among college graduates. These phenomena – job insecurity, low salaries for overqualified jobs – are a growing concern. In a large law firm in Atlanta, for instance, the young woman delivering the mail has a law degree and the receptionist has a degree in management, wrote recently the New York Times, in an article entitled entitled “It Takes a B.A. to Find a Job as a File Clerk”.
In Atlanta, 39% of job postings for secretaries and administrative assistant require a bachelor's degree. The irony is that a university education is becoming more and more expensive. Libertarian monthly magazine Reason whose motto is: “Free minds and free markets,” published in their April edition an article that said that over the last 35 years, university tuitions have increased twice as much as healthcare, and seven times as much as home prices.
A system that is failing its youth
Having been able to study without a loan, Margot feels very lucky. Her situation is not as bad as it is for those who have student loans to pay back – like one of her friends, a young graduate who is unemployed, and who recently had to come and stay with her. Studies show that tuitions are soaring: up more than 20% in 25 out of 50 states in five years, more than 40% on average in community colleges. Meanwhile scholarship levels have fallen sharply – down by more than 20% in 30 states. Rising tuitions and lower aids translates to an explosion of student debts in the U.S. One out of five households are in debt because of education costs.
For young graduates or the families who co-sign their loans, student debt has become an unbearable cross to bear. Before, when we left college, we were almost certain to find a job and be able to pay back our loan. Today, not only do students need bigger loans, but there is a real possibility that they won’t find a job to make their payments, and will have to declare bankruptcy. More and more young people are reluctant to enroll in college, by fear of ending up with crippling debts. The American university system is going through a systematic crisis.
Reason magazine’s April issue had an article with the subtitle: “Why are we screwing up the world’s best higher education system?” The subtext is that U.S. colleges are failing their students. The 30 or 40 prestigious U.S. universities (costing around $55,000 or $60,000 a year), continue to produce Nobel Prizes, but can no longer hide the fact that students are increasingly – and massively – impoverished.
The system is declining and universities are not able to produce tomorrow’s elite locally. So much so that they will have to start importing their talent from abroad. The U.S. should make education a matter of national urgency if they want to avoid losing their number one ranking in technology. The problem is well known in the university world, and does not only affect the high tech sector.
America has always imported talent. But today, in many research labs, foreign researchers or those of foreign origin represent 90% of the staff. Meanwhile, there are more and more parents in America who are worried about the economical well-being of their children – something that the Old Continent is only too familiar with.