Patterico's Pontifications


Higher Education in Hard Times

Filed under: Economics,Education — DRJ @ 2:29 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

The AP reports that college graduates are having a hard time finding work. Obviously tough economic times are hard on everyone, but they are especially hard on blue collar males and recent graduates like this:

“Josh D**, 23, who went on food stamps two weeks after leaving Oregon State University with an economics degree that he hoped to use for a job as a financial analyst. He’s living with his aunt and uncle in Grants Pass, Ore., and looking for even a menial job.

“It feels like really, really bad, terrible timing,” he says. “A degree in economics doesn’t really prepare you to understand the economy very well.”

Sadly, that quote doesn’t reflect well on higher education.

Like many graduates faced with a tough job market, Josh is thinking about graduate school, specifically law school. Graduate schools often see spikes in applications during economic downturns, such as in 2002 after 9/11 and in today’s market.

But more education isn’t always a good idea, especially when it’s accompanied by more debt. An increase in graduate school attendance means the pool of job applicants will be larger in 2-3 years, and not all employers are willing to pay the salaries employees with advanced degrees expect.

Unfortunately, tough times can make for tough decisions.


20 Responses to “Higher Education in Hard Times”

  1. Looking at Grants Pass, OR on Google Maps, it doesn’t strike me as the kind of town where multiple financial analysts/economists are needed/employed.

    The population was 23,003 at the 2000 census, with an estimated population of 34,237 in 2007.[4].

    via Wikipedia.

    Techie (9c008e)

  2. There are a crapload of openings in Geithner’s organization. And, given their track record, this gentleman’s level of experience should qualify him to lead GM out of bankruptcy.

    JD (2c7553)

  3. “A degree in economics doesn’t really prepare you to understand the economy very well.”

    Reminds me something outta one of Rush’s two books.

    A local plant was complaining that the 18 year old high school grads couldn’t work with fractions (it was some kind of sheet-metal company, where fractions of an inch were very common). Some official from the local high school that was producing these graduates said something along the line that “A high school diploma didn’t necessarily mean competency in basic skills”.

    Really. The ability to handle God Damn fractions isn’t guaranteed with a High School diploma?

    And people wonder why I weep for the world.

    Scott Jacobs (90ff96)

  4. I’ve visited Grants Pass numerous times, as well as the surrounding areas (Ashland, Klamath, etc). there are hardly any jobs for white – collar professionals in the entire area – it’s all service work.

    Dmac (1ddf7e)

  5. I graduated college during the last Bush recession (in 1991) and the job market sucked. Thank God I still had my college pizza delivery job, which kept me solvent for 8 months or so. Never burn your bridges, kids.

    carlitos (2703cf)

  6. He might have been better served to get a double degree in Forest Management and Law Enforcement, so he could bust all the pot farmers out in the National Forests.

    AD - RtR/OS! (681803)

  7. I got out of college in 1976, which was the start of the stagflation era. It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t the job I wanted, but a good degree and a willingness to work for nearly no money works wonders.

    The older workers have it really rough by comparison.

    Kevin Murphy (805c5b)

  8. I mean, I can certainly sympathize. It took me ~7 months to find relevant work after completing my MS, and we (my wife and I) were living on her income alone.

    Only advice I can give is NETWORK!!!!!. I literally met a guy who knew a guy who knew a gal who was hiring. Got my name in first, and voila!

    Techie (9c008e)

  9. I will second that Techie. All you professionals, should seriously consider joining LinkedIn. I have been a member for about 2 months, and I have been contacted by recruiters offering REAL, 6-figure jobs in engineering (Chemical).

    And I have the luxury of choosing.

    Dr. K (9f1cc1)

  10. I was talking with a client today. He stated that last week, his company location suffered a 12% reduction in force, from an initial headcount of 600. So that’s another 528 jobs Obama has either SAVED or created.

    Thank Obama for the Stimulus.

    Dr. K (9f1cc1)

  11. The debt equation is weighing heavily on my mind.

    I’m in a part time program. The benefit to this is that I can work full time – in software, the industry I’m trying to get out of – while going to school, and therefore not have much debt. The downside is that I don’t get experience in the industry i’m trying to get into, and may have a more difficult time marketing myself when I get out.

    At the end of my first year, I turned down a transfer to a full time program at a higher ranked school.

    It seems likely, although certainly not guaranteed, that I may be able to transfer to Boalt at the end of this year. But that means quitting my job and taking out loans.

    And so the question I’m staring at, that I have no good answer to, is: is it worth it?

    aphrael (e0cdc9)

  12. The kid doesn’t know anything about economics? Why isn’t he applying to the federal government?

    danebramage (700c93)

  13. Stop me if you have already heard this.

    The physicist asks: How does it work?
    The engineer asks: How do you build it?
    The accountant asks: How much will it cost?
    The liberal arts major asks: Do you want fries with that?

    nk (a1896a)

  14. Aphrael – Wish I had a good answer for you. I am not taking on any new debt while Barcky is in office, if I can help it. Your view on him is obviously different than mine 😉

    JD (4b1a03)

  15. aphrael,

    Just my opinion but I think a top 20 law school like Boalt is generally worth extra debt because there are more national job choices, but it’s not worth a lot more debt. Everyone has to decide what “a lot more” means to them. In addition, if you know you want to live and work in a specific city or region, then having the networking that comes from attending a decent law school in that region might be better than paying a premium for a top 20 law school.

    Of course, the best solution is to get the law school to offer you merit money, something law schools in the 10-20 range may be more likely to do than a top 10 law school since they are trying to pull themselves up in the rankings. Merit money goes to applicants with top college/law school GPAs and LSATs. I know it’s offered to some first year applicants but there might also be funds available for transfer students. It probably depends on the school.

    I guess you should ask the admissions people but if there is merit money available for transfers, it might pay to retake the LSAT to get your score in the 175-180 range — if it’s allowed and assuming your prior score wasn’t in that range. If you have an LSAT in that range, consider expanding your list of law schools to several in the top 10-20 because some of them will pay for students with good GPAs and LSATs.

    DRJ (f55947)

  16. aphrael,

    Would you be transferring for your third year? I’d seriously consider that if Boalt will let you. You may not get the clerkship opportunities but lots of clerking jobs are falling through in this market. You ‘d still be getting a top degree for 1/3 the cost.

    However, if instead you’d be classified as a second year student, I’d want to know what Boalt’s numbers look like for second year clerkships and post-graduate employment specifically for transfer students. They should have statistics on that and it would help you decide if the benefits outweigh the costs.

    DRJ (f55947)

  17. I just graduated with a general engineering degree and will be continuing onto grad school specializing in digital design / computer hardware in my hometown. Jobs are definitely light right now in the field, but there are still jobs in R&D positions. Those do require advanced degrees, so that’s the primary reason I’m in grad school right now. I’m currently pointed at a masters program, but if things still look sour when I finish, I’ll probably dive back in for the Ph.D.

    Michael (7e6cc1)

  18. I may be off base here – but why do we give food stamps to someone who isn’t doing anything for it? Josh sounds like a person capable of working. It may not be rocket science, or economics or a financial analyst position. But we pay people to do ‘government’ work – which includes cleaning up trash on roadsides, grounds-keeping of public land, etc.
    For an able-bodied, willing-to-work individual like Josh, why not have him work for food stamps? Would not both he and we benefit from that?
    I know that I would much prefer doing something for something, rather than getting it for free.

    Corwin (ea9428)

  19. Too many people go to college in useless degree programs. A B.S. in economics is really quite useless, it does not teach you any useful skill – and often does not really even teach you economics ( at least not from my conversations with economics grads ). There are a myriad of other examples of utterly useless degrees such as sociology which do not lead one to any valuable field.

    Good point about LSAT, DRJ, my high LSAT score got me a free ride at Loyola Law School.

    SPQR (72771e)

  20. aphrael, I did my MBA at a top school part-time at night for the same reason. Although, to be fair, I was already working in my field at the time, so gaining relevant experience. I don’t think that law schools have caught up with the business schools in terms of part-time opportunities, because they are snobs and don’t want anyone in on their racket.

    Only half-joking, maybe ACORN or the ACLU or some PAC could use someone with your technical chops, and you could get some political / legal networking and experience on the side, while staying in a part-time law program.

    carlitos (2703cf)

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