Paul Johnston, the former head of the Plattsburgh State University’s English department, mentioned in an interview how college transformed over the last 50 years.
As an undergraduate in the late 1960’s, Johnston pursued a degree in English at Grand Valley State College. Although he entered originally as a political science major and hoped to pursue law after school. Johnston stated that he only developed an interest in English upon entering university
“When I was in high school, I had no idea I was interested in those things. I went that direction because it was what I enjoyed,” Johnston said. To say the least, I was offended. I too harbored my own interests – I liked to sing, act, and dance – but wouldn’t dare pursue a corresponding major if it was not going to pay well.
According to U.S. News & World Report, a political science majors’ annual salary, $114,000, was almost double that of english majors’ mid career earnings of $71,000.
To know Johnston had forfeited a possibly higher income for something he enjoyed was almost like hearing him say he wanted to be poor.
“But,” Johnston said, “What one chose to major in, what they wanted to get from it, were much more open-questions than they are now,” Johnson said. “I don’t think they are able to enjoy their education or get as much from them as I did.”
In 2012, many young people said they went to college with the intent of getting “a better job.”
Their thinking is well-paced, given that the New York Post reported high school graduates made 56% less than their college-educated counterparts in 2015.
It certainly doesn’t help that approximately 60% employers believe the evolution of workforce skills have rendered a secondary school education obsolete according to the Chicago Tribune.
But young people are being bombarded with newer, arguably more toxic college-related issues.
The nation’s combined student debt has reached a troubling $1.5 trillion in 2018, and graduates have been forced to take up jobs they are overqualified for according to the Economic Policy Institute.
While this may seem the best short-term option to offset the pressure of loans, this rise in underemployment has caused another problem within itself: the displacement of lower educated job seekers who are not employable at higher-paying establishments.
Johnston firmly placed the blame on society. He contests that college was once deemed a communal good, one the United States was willing to foot the bill for under the belief that the more educated citizens there were, the more prosperous the country would become.
But as the job market tightened and students became more inclined to flex their academic muscle for potential employers, government officials started to view college as an individual benefit.
Thus, it would be the individual’s responsibility to get themselves through those four years.
When I asked him if he envisioned a possible equilibrium for students, their institutes, the job market and the government?”
He grimaced slightly and crossed his hands. “I hope so,” he said.
It was admittedly a bleak answer, one that I didn’t want to accept. But it would be irrational to anticipate panic from someone who had lived his life.
I was the one staring directly into the eyes of an unstable economy and had to sit with myself that afternoon, wondering if the college dream was just another hoax that made its way to American history.
Email Kia Marie Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org