Jewish World Review May 17, 2004 / 26 Iyar, 5764
We all want our children to have the opportunity to build a better life than ours. That has been the aspiration of every generation since our country's founding. It's the essence of the American dream. And for decades, most of us believed that a college education was the best way to ensure the realization of that dream. But as the very nature of our economy has changed, as business and markets have globalized, and hundreds of thousands of American jobs have been outsourced to cheap foreign labor markets, the employment prospects for our nation's college graduates have deteriorated. A good education no longer assures realization of the American dream. It's not even a guarantee of a job. And as the cost of higher education has been skyrocketing, the promise of a return on the investment has been diminishing. An investment that for many middle-class families requires sacrifice and going into debt, often crushing debt.
The price of a college education at a public university or college rose by 14 percent last year, while private college tuition is up 6 percent. According to the College Board, a degree from a private four-year institution now costs roughly $127,325. By the year 2022, the same education will cost more than $300,000.
While it is true that historically those with a college education are in a better position to earn more over a lifetime, recent employment trends do not bode well for recent college graduates. At the end of 1999, the level of unemployed college graduates was 22 percent less than that of high school dropouts. But by April of this year, the level of unemployed college graduates outpaced that of those without a high school diploma by 13 percent. And it appears educated African-Americans may be among those hit the hardest. A study conducted by the National Urban League found that the unemployment rate for college educated and highly-skilled African-American workers is significantly worse than that of their white peers.
President Bush has said that workers who have lost their jobs need to be retrained. Earlier this month, the president proposed another $250 million for Americans to get job-training help, which would include funding for community colleges. But, of course, those retrained for other employment will be competing with recent graduates for jobs. And despite all of the recent emphasis placed on training, unemployment still remains a serious issue for highly skilled Americans. The unemployment rate among electrical engineers, for instance, rose from 4.5 percent in last year's fourth quarter to 5.3 percent in the first quarter of this year. An increase of almost 18 percent.
Although the job market for college graduates is better this year than last, and thankfully still improving, the job market is still tough. A leading career Web site for college students, MonsterTRAK, recently released the results of its annual survey of college graduates. According to the survey, only 10 percent of this year's graduates have landed a job and 51 percent of seniors don't expect any job offers when they graduate. Interestingly, 34 percent of this year's graduates are concerned that offshore outsourcing will impact their employment prospects.
In addition to a less than stellar job market, today's graduates also face more serious financial burdens than those of previous generations. Sixty-four percent of students now graduate with debt, twice as many as eight years ago. Graduates now leave college owing an average of $18,000. So they are in the red, in most cases, before they've even begun.
Too many middle-class families are being priced out of an education for their children, and those students who do graduate are too often overburdened by debt, without prospects of earning enough to pay off that debt. These troubling trends, with complex underlying causes, demand the immediate attention of our policymakers and political leaders. While it isn't the entire solution, we must stop outsourcing American jobs to cheap overseas labor markets. Nothing less than the American dream is at stake for an entire generation.
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