Saturday, March 9, 2013

They Don’t Call It Higher Education For Nothing

Yesterday I received a letter that started “Dear Families,” which informed me that college tuition for Adam, a sophomore, would be rising another 3.7% for the 2013-2014 school year, bringing total costs to $57,900.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve just started my freelance career and am feeling a little insecure about the future, but I looked at that number as though I’d never seen anything like it before, and a whole mishmash of emotions came flooding in. Incredulity, outrage, anger, resignation, helplessness, hopelessness, and did I mention anger?

(Did you know that, according to Bloomberg, tuition costs have risen 1,102 percent in the last thirty years? I have one word for this statistic—obscene.)

A few hours later, I made the huge mistake of reading a series of first-person accounts of unemployment at Gawker, and between my letter and those accounts I just about lost my mind for a minute.

Maybe some of those accounts have been exaggerated for dramatic effect or maybe some of the writers have made really bad financial and other life choices. Even so, I think it’s safe to say that it’s really tough out here. Of course, what caught my attention the most was the number of young people with college degrees who say they just can’t get decent jobs.

I have good reason to believe what I’ve read. A year or so ago, when I was searching for an HR Assistant, I received many resumes from college grads who were currently working as low-level sales assistants in the retail industry or as wait staff in the restaurant industry. They simply could not find decent-paying jobs with benefits in their chosen fields. And without bragging, let me tell you that as a hiring manager I’m an exception. I’ll hire someone with the right traits but not a whole lot of experience in a minute because I’m confident of my teaching skills. Not every manager will do that. Many want entry-level applicants to have all kinds of experience, and it’s a shame and kind of ridiculous in my view. One job posting I saw last year for a “greeter” at a local theater wanted someone with two years of customer service experience. Give me a freakin’ break, please.

So, I think about Adam’s tuition, and I get a little frightened. Not because we can’t afford it. We can’t, but that’s nothing new. Adam has a scholarship and covers the rest in loans. But I still get a little frightened, mostly about a world in which those in control seem to have no compunction about taking advantage of those who aren’t. You say that’s always been the way of the world? I know, but it seems to be getting worse.

For example, one of the reasons I’m not looking for a full-time job in human resources, despite my background and skills, is that the salaries for generalists at smaller to mid-size companies are straight out of 2004. In fact, I’ve had managers quote current salaries lower than what I was making in 2004. I’m not kidding. How can this be? There’s a bunch of competition, that’s how. And since many managers aren’t necessarily looking for anyone great, just good enough (especially in HR, but that’s another story), they can pay what they pay and have plenty of takers.

So, I worry. The rising costs of higher education. Over-the-top managerial expectations. Stagnant wages. Loads of competition. Employers who don’t want to invest in training. None of this is good for job seekers. 

And in the meantime, I’m trying to teach Adam how to hustle a dollar now, because the time to get started is now. But I’m his mother, so … he doesn’t listen all that well. But, I’m going to keep trying.

Because three years from now, I don’t want to be reading his damn story on Gawker.


  1. Great article. I continue to remind myself that while the cost of education is insanely high (just as you put it)... that the cost of being uneducated is even higher.

  2. Well, it's becomes a bit of a Catch 22, hasn't it? You can't do without out, but you can't do much with it. Something has to give, and soon.

  3. Informative article. Scary scenario. My oldest will be looking at colleges in a couple of years and like you, I'm in fear for the future. Kids are getting a serious dose of reality earlier and earlier on the way to their careers.

    You put it best, "hustling" is going to become everyone's middle name.

  4. "'Hustling' is going to become everyone's middle name."

    Ha ha! Funny, yet a little frightening at the same time.