“Education is the gateway to success.”
“Once you have a spot in the Ivy League schools, you’ve made it.”
“If you can’t make it to the Ivy League, you won’t be as successful.”
… or so we’ve been told.
Human Capital Theory is an idea that directly correlates the level of education received with earnings. The more you study, the higher the degree; the better the job, the higher the earnings. It sounds simple enough, however, as a recent graduate of the London School of Economics with a master’s degree in social and public policy struggling to find a job, I can personally attest that it’s not as simple as graduating from a prestigious university.
The job search has been tedious and long and I find myself applying to jobs that I am greatly overqualified for.
The expansion of higher education has increased the access and enrollment of individuals in colleges and universities and we are globally more educated than ever before. A university education is no longer just for the privileged, the best, or the brightest. In fact, 70% of high school grads in the United States go on to some sort of post-secondary education directly from high school. (That number is up to 90% in certain Asian countries.)
This should not undermine the fact that inequalities still persist as college proves to be a struggle for many to afford. In order for children to experience higher education at all, they would need to first have access to basic education. While we have certainly made headway on this, we still have major work to do to make sure everyone has access to quality elementary education. With that, the will to pursue higher education should be treated as a key social right that everyone should have access to.
However, it cannot be ignored that a “massification” or expansion of higher education has occurred and continues to grow.
As a higher number of students enter university, a higher number of educated grads are pumped into the job market. What would have once set an individual apart as a qualified candidate for the job, now no longer highlights them.
So what happens? A higher number of students attempt to fulfill the next degree with the hope of fulfilling the qualifications employers are looking for — and suddenly, a higher level degree becomes necessary.
Graduates are opting for jobs they are overqualified and overeducated for and the job market can’t keep up. As a paper published in The Center for Higher Education points out, “around 40-50% of college graduates in the US are doing sub graduate work; about 52% of four-year college graduates are in jobs that match their skills, whereas 48% are overqualified for the work they do.”
While these grads are fighting for jobs, at the same time there has become a shortage of candidates for jobs that don’t require such high level degrees but are still as respected and necessary to our way of life. We need our mechanics, plumbers, and electricians. Our chefs, technicians, and construction managers. Our postmen, firemen, and pilots. These are all high paying jobs that have been stigmatized as “lesser” when they’re actually very well respected professions that will continue to be in high demand.
We need to stop preaching the same tired messages to our youth. Education does not guarantee money, social mobility, and happiness. We push children to pursue an education because they think it is the “right thing to do” and will guarantee a level of success — which is not actually today’s reality. We are graduating with the highest level of debt in our history, and without the means to pay off that debt, we are entering into a lifetime of money issues — sometimes without ever making it to our dream careers.