“We will provide the support necessary for all young Americans to complete college and meet a new goal by 2020, once again, America will have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.”
The quote is from President Obama’s 2010 State of the Union Address, and was mentioned as I listened to NPR’s Tell Me More this morning. To meet that goal the United States will have to produce 8 million new degrees, which will cost an estimated $100 billion (and that is the low estimate).
Approximately 45 percent of recent college graduates are unemployed or underemployed, and many are tens of thousands of dollars in debt.
We are trying to treat symptoms instead of addressing problems. Adding 8 million college degrees isn’t going to answer the real hard questions.
Why is the middle class shrinking?
Software is replacing the middle class. Manufacturing jobs, which were once the hallmark of the middle class, have evaporated. Middle class desk jobs, such as accountants and lawyers are beginning to see software like inDinero and Legal Zoom are eating away at their work as well.
If the work is repetitive, software can be written to do it – and a lot better. As humans, we get tired, and our memories can’t compete with databases. Software just needs electricity to work.
The middle class is shrinking, while more people are entering the upper and lower class than ever before. I imagine that as robots become more dexterous we’ll see them fixing the plumbing and painting houses. What happens when there aren’t any middle, or lower class jobs?
Why don’t we have more engineers?
Engineering isn’t cool. I took an entry level Java programming class and college, and absolutely despised it. If I wouldn’t have started a internet business, I would have gone through life thinking programming is terrible.
I can’t speak for other engineering classes, but the way most universities teach computer science is garbage. Don’t take my word for it – look at the success of hacker schools, such as The Starter League (Which I attended).
The reality is most people don’t care about circuits, they just want to learn how to build things. After a whole semester of Java I didn’t know how to build anything. On the other hand, two weeks at the Starter League I could build basic applications, and after three months I built a production analytics platform for Tumblr with two other guys.
We don’t have a lot of engineering graduates, because it isn’t cool.People actually want to build things, and Hacker schools like The Starter League are changing that.
What are credentials worth?
Credentials aren’t worth anything. For the first time in history people can be judged solely by their work, and nothing else. There was a great quote in an article titled Pixels don’t Care that sums up this concept.
“How could the internet know you were gay? 80 years old? Hispanic? Transgender? Karl Rove? It just didn’t matter. Respect was earned through actions and the words you actually said.”
Focus on real problems, not symptomatic statistics
I wouldn’t expect President Obama to say that he wants less people to graduate from college this year, but if the unemployment trend continues for recent graduates then we’ll have 3.6 million newly unemployed graduates by 2020.
Treat the problems, not the symptoms.