College graduates be proud, even if unemployed

I just posted a comment on another blog regarding the “value” of a college education and associated frustration felt by college graduates who were jobless.  I wanted to port that conversation here and expand on it a bit.

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A fascinating statistic that many don’t realize:  As of 2008, only 29.5% of our nation aged 25 and higher held a college degree.  All college graduates should be proud to be among the best educated in our society.

But, to paraphrase (hopefully not mis-characterize) John Dewey, while it’s not unreasonable to expect a career to result from an education, it is not the reason for that education.

An educated democracy is a better democracy.  The better educated tend to live longer and have higher levels of community involvement.  They also tend to have children who are in better health and have higher educational outcome potential.  They have better critical thinking skills and tend to be more resilient.

The ability to parlay one’s education into a career doesn’t have to be intrinsically linked with the perceived value of that education.  As today’s graduates are finding out, there are too many variables involved to lay either all the blame or all the credit for their career on their education.

As something of a higher education fuddy-duddy, I cringe that we’ve come to define higher education as being equal to job training.  I recognize there is a convoluted history of higher education that involves not only items like knowledge creation, student development and an educated democracy on the positive side, but also segregation and elitism on the negative side.  So, I try to walk the balance between pining for “the good old days” of higher education and recognizing that said “good old days” probably never existed, at least not in a fair and equitable manner.

But, with all that acknowledged, I’d like to push for us to recognize that simply being better educated is a reward in and of itself, and it does come with “perks” that aren’t specific to finding a job, and those perks also have value.  We simply haven’t decided as a society to give as much attention to ROI that isn’t directly related to employment and income.

For the unemployed out there, I do feel for you, and it is my hope that you find not only employment but a satisfying career.  I understand why you’re frustrated.  You bought into the idea that if you work hard and do well, you’ll be rewarded with a career.  And I’m sure you still will be.  But, until then, know you carry with you many tools and have had experiences that have shaped your thinking in ways that may not even be revealed for a few years.  There’s value to be had there, even if it’s not immediately obvious to your current situation.

Gary Alan Miller

Cross posted on The Student Affairs Collaborate Blog

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