U.S. News' Best Careers guide concludes that "college grads might want to consider blue-collar careers" because bachelor's degree holders "are having trouble finding jobs that require college-graduate skills." Incredibly, U.S. News is telling college graduates to look for jobs that do not require a college diploma. Among the 31 best opportunities for 2008 are the careers of firefighter, hairstylist, cosmetologist, locksmith, and security system technician.
One of my profs as an undergrad lamented to me that colleges were turning into glorified vocational-technical academies. And he was right--college is no longer about learning the classics, about learning to think critically, about learning the liberal arts, humanities, philosophy, and historical heritage that made Western Civilization what it is today. I went to school for my undergrad and my one of my masters to learn how to be a technician--actually a manager of technicians--but it was still a technical degree, something that I could have obtained at a upscale version of WyoTech. This is not what a college is supposed to do. And like the persons referenced by the USNWR article, I don't even utilize my degrees in my daily job...I'm in the service industry, as an aircraft pilot. I'm a well-trained monkey with air sense; I don't create for a living and my numerous educational degrees not much more than a waste of resources.
And that's the rub. The US economy has largely become what Drucker predicted in Post-Capitalist Society...a "knowledge economy" supported by "services", with idiot-proof, low-skill manufactures outsourced overseas. The jobs referenced above for college grads are service- or government-sector jobs, not the high-paying, high-status knowledge jobs that Drucker extolled, and not ones that require the significant resource investment that is college.
So why does college persist despite the obvious economic wastefulness? I think part of it is the phenomenon that Gatto references in his book Underground History of American Education...schooling (note: not education, which is different) provides you the certification for entry into the professions. Without this certification, one won't get past the State-run licensing boards, themselves a gate-keeping organ of professional guilds. Without this certification, one will likely be consigned into a low-paying McJob. The result is a very expensive educational arms race of sorts with contenders loading themselves up with debt, the cost of competing made all the more acute by the legions of women who jack up the cost of college with their useless lib-arts degrees, only to drop out of the work force as soon as the first baby arrives. To labor in a mediocre job is one thing, to groan under the burden of one or two college degree's worth of debt is something else altogether.
One of Gatto's main theses is that our system of forced compulsory schooling is designed to turn out well-trained, compliant, low-wattage laborers for classical capitalistic industry. It just doesn't do to have too many big thinkers working the assembly line...just do your Taylorized job and leave the big thoughts to the managerial class. In this way, I'd say that the public school system worked beautifully; problem is that the technically oriented heavy manufacturing of the Taylor and Ford days are gone and we do not yet have an educational system that will create low-cost knowlege workers. We're still stuck producing hordes of debt-laden industrial, technical, and service workers for a knowledge and service economy.
Speaking of cost, one of the finicky things about knowledge jobs is that they are portable, they can be done everywhere and anywhere. Which is why they're all trucking offshore to well-schooled, mabye even -educated, foreign populations, such as those in New Delhi who work at 1/5 the labor cost of Americans, who don't have as big of educational bills to pay, as big of house payments to make, and who aren't being squeezed hard by their own government debasing the dollar to finance more deficit spending.
The lesson here appears to be that if you are going to invest the money to go to college, be prepared to move to Bangalore to find work; else save your money.