A recent Associated Press analysis of government data revealed that about half of young college grads are unemployed or underemployed. According to AP, “about 1.5 million, or 53.6 percent, of bachelor’s degree-holders under the age of 25 last year were jobless or underemployed.” As disheartening as these numbers are, they’re not that surprising. The recession has made joblessness a fact of life for many Americans and national unemployment statistics are routinely reported at the beginning of each month by most news outlets and publications. It stands to reason that college grads would not be immune to the economic crisis. But as unsurprising as this data may be, it does shed light on an oft-overlooked, or at least understated, fact of our society: education is secondary to the economy.
Many Americans are told throughout their lives, either directly or subtly, that if you go to school, study hard, do well, and graduate, you’ll be able to get a good job and live comfortably. And to a degree, this is true. While recent college grads have it rough, they don’t have it anywhere near as rough as their peers without college degrees. It is still true that the more educated you are, the more likely you are to be gainfully employed. But we can no longer look at a college degree as the golden ticket that we once did.
As someone who has been actively involved in improving educational opportunities for underserved youth for almost 10 years, this is particularly frustrating. Don’t get me wrong; working to level the playing field is extremely important. I was lucky enough to be born into a situation in which I had access to quality education throughout my life. My family found those opportunities at private schools which we accessed through significant financial aid and sacrifice. I’ve benefited as a result. Everyone, not just the privileged few, should have access to quality educational opportunities. But as the AP article shows, ensuring that young people receive a quality education is not enough if we do not also work to improve the options that exist for people after they graduate.