Critical Advice for Gen-Y on College Education

Higher education is facing an incredible crossroads right now, many of the degrees offered for an exorbitant tuition cost are irrelevant in today’s global information economy. The current cost of a college education in general has smart people questioning the value. Mike Rowe, well-known from the hit TV show “Dirty Jobs” explained in a recent interview, “We’re lending money we don’t have, to kids who will never be able to pay it back, for jobs that no longer exist.” He went on to add that, “I’m not against college education. I’m against debt.” Five figures or more of debt after college is not an inspiring start in life, it’s a heavy burden that’s deeply impacting psyches and life choices.

If you’re going to take on college debt, get relevant, specialized skills with your education. A great many majors simply provide a lot of general knowledge, which is not relevant to the marketplace (employers). For this reason, I firmly believe it is important to have a major that builds a set of unique skills, specialized knowledge, and strong communication abilities.

Brand-new majors emerging out of the information age economy are incredibly specialized and include interactive and social media, environmental engineering, biomedical engineering, sustainable development, homeland security, cybersecurity, and information assurance. Some of these majors may not sound enticing, but I’d like to point out that they were not even offered when I was in college in the ’90s. The world has changed a great deal and so have the needs of the marketplace. Please trust me here: you want to be relevant in the marketplace when you leave college with your degree.

I graduated at the very tail end of the industrial age economy; the information age economy was a mere infant as I accepted my diploma. This meant that majors such as engineering, chemistry, computer science, architecture, and business administration, as examples, got you hired and into a career fast track with the potential for high earnings. Majors such as these provided the specialized knowledge of my time.

Due to the new global economy of the information age, the degrees I just mentioned above don’t guarantee the same bright employment future that they used to. Not that these majors are irrelevant in the new economy; of course the knowledge workers that come from those majors have their place, but the competition for jobs is global, especially in these fields. If you’re graduating with something like an art history degree nowadays, you’ll be making lattes and working for tips while trying to pay down five to six figures in college debt. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, 284,0000 Americans with bachelor’s degree or higher worked for minimum wage jobs in 2012; that’s up 70% since 2002. If you’re looking to assign this statistic to the impact of the recession, keep reading.

A lot of the skills stemming from an education in computer science and even business administration can and are now being farmed out to workers in foreign countries for a fraction of what a millenial in the same position might cost. This was not the case for me and my Gen X comrades as we entered the workforce. It’s true for Gen Y, however. And, yes, it definitely affects us Gen Xers too and is changing the way we work. For example, I hired an administrative assistant last year to help me stay organized with various projects. He and his company are located in India. We stayed in touch in real time over Skype and IM. He is college educated, excellent at the work I gave him, and cost me barely over American minimum wage. Again, it’s a new world

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