Graduation Mash-Up: Reality-Check Time

CJ Westerberg, May 25, 2010 8:04 AM


Three To Read
Sharp Observations On Our Graduating Class 

By C.J. Westerberg

1)   Do check out this week's The New Yorker with a poignant cover illustration complementing Simon Rich's  "Your New College Graduate: A Parents' Guide", a farcical quick-read on unemployed college grads at home with mom and dad.  The consensus here at The Daily Riff is that it didn't float our boat, especially for this publication - think it would have been more entertaining a few years ago or if the author had taken a different angle (maybe a student's POV?).   What's your riff on this?  Yay or Nay?

2)   Joe Queenan's "A Lament For The Class of 2010" from The Wall Street Journal, on the other side of the spectrum, is a chilling must-read portrayal of the new reality faced by recent grads.   He begins his story with a "smart, talented, enterprising young man" with his newly-minted Ivy League degree who was both living at home and "working" as an intern at a NYC street fair.   Queenan continues:

" . . . Over the next few weeks, hundreds of thousands of Millennials will graduate from institutions of higher learning. They will celebrate for several days, perhaps several weeks. Then they will enter a labor force that neither wants nor needs them. They will enter an economy where roughly 17% of people aged 20 through 24 do not have a job, and where two million college graduates are unemployed. They will enter a world where they will compete tooth and nail for jobs as waitresses, pizza delivery men, file clerks, bouncers, trainee busboys, assistant baristas, interns at
. . ."

Queenan seems to cover the conversations we've been hearing efficiently as a checklist, but in every instance, brilliantly cuts a nerve.  Whether it be the implications of a pampered childhood, the myths generated by television programs like "The Office," the flight to law school (if parents can afford it) which is no guarantee, or the plan of working overseas, Queenan takes these topics on and circles back to frame the context:

" . . . .Baby boomers get sick of hearing young people bellyache about the grim jobs situation. They cite studies proving that entitled, self-absorbed Millennials make the worst employees ever. They recall with belligerent pride how they themselves withstood the Arab oil embargo, stagflation, the soaring interest rates of the Carter years. But Baby Boomers conveniently forget that it didn't set anyone back a year's salary to go to college in the 1960s and 1970s, and that college graduates back then were not entering a work force filled with other college grads. When I got my first job in 1973, I was surrounded by high-school dropouts. They weren't even especially bright high-school dropouts. So it was possible to make a vertical move quickly. Not today, when everybody in the white-collar world has a college degree. Today, even the idiots have college degrees. And the idiots have seniority. . . ."

3)    The NYTimes today, in " A Degree In Three" outlines the case for colleges and universities to offer degrees in three years instead of the requisite four (or in many cases, five) and to accelerate graduate degrees in kind:

" . . . Savings aren't the only reason for shortening the time it takes to get a degree. It would also force curriculum innovation, as departments look for ways to pack the same information into a shorter time period. Multi-disciplinary courses would blossom: French history and literature might be integrated into a single course, bringing together two departments that are usually kept apart.

America is blessed with a post-secondary educational system second to none. But we're victims of our own success - demand is outstripping capacity, even as costs soar. Cutting the undergraduate experience to three years would allow our colleges to be as efficient as they are effective. . . ."

Conversations have been floating around about the option of shortening high school to three years, eliminating the often-viewed last year of "socializing" and senior-itis, which makes sense if it works for the student's situation.  If not, a senior year filled with extensive apprenticeship experiences is another smart option.

Regarding college in three, again it would depend on the economic situation of the student.
Many students utilize the "break" from academics to pursue internships and/or paid work which can often afford valuable insight, skills and knowledge.

But with summer jobs at a premium in this current climate (skip the idea of "meaningful summer jobs"), many students would just as well continue through the summer to get their diploma in three.  The current one-size-fits-all system is at a tipping point and probably a good idea we do a reality-check.

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It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.
Leonardo da Vinci
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