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Unemployed grad suing college for tuition highlights low value of degrees
August 3, 2009, 2:22 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized
Michael Warren

Michael Warren

A graduate of Monroe College is suing her New York City alma mater for the cost of her $70,000 tuition, claiming that the college did not help her enough in finding gainful employment for after graduation.

Trina Thompson earned a degree in information technology from Monroe last April, but she still has yet to find a job. Monroe College naturally calls the lawsuit bogus and says they do help students find jobs.

Who’s to blame for the unemployed 27-year-old with an IT degree?

A quick look at Monroe’s Web site shows it overflows with career development opportunities. There are links for “Undergraduate Career Management,” “Career Assessment,” “On-Campus Recruiting,” “Career Fairs,” “Jobs on the Web” and “Internships” at the Office of Career Advancement page. The office does not require an appointment to meet with an advisor and encourages students to start working on their careers early.

Now if Monroe offers all this on their Web site but delivers poorly on these promises, Thompson may have a point. She certainly wouldn’t deserve her full tuition back, but if the Office of Career Advancement was nothing but a sham, there may be justification for some financial restitution. After all, the education was a service Thompson paid for, and if she isn’t satisfied that Monroe held up their end of the bargain, she deserves her day in court.

But the situation doesn’t seem so neat. Where are the other Monroe graduates complaining about this? If the college didn’t provide adequate career advancement services, wouldn’t we be hearing from a lot more disgruntled graduates?

The more likely scenario is that Thompson doesn’t have a job for a combination of reasons, including the bad economy. She may feel Monroe should have done more to help her out, but she’s deluded if she thought spending money and time on higher education guaranteed her a job afterward. Sadly, this delusion may be gripping a large part of a generation.

Should we really be celebrating that more young people are attending college? Charles Murray, a social scientist and policy maker, pondered the thought that too many Americans are going to college.

Murray rightly points out that most of the time, a four-year degree is “a screening device for employers.” It certainly doesn’t certify qualification for any job (engineering and science degrees are some exceptions). But what we have had in recent times is a race to the “top” in terms of education. If everyone and their brother is earning a four-year degree, it becomes a less-effective screen. There’s market saturation, and employers start looking for other screens. Sure, you can’t even get in the building without a bachelor’s, but you won’t get past the lobby without a good GPA or a reputable alma mater or a wealth of experience or advanced degrees; it’s even better to have all of the above.

Those are most likely the obstacles Thompson is facing in the career world. She has the degree, but so does everybody else.

Perhaps she could have worked harder to make better grades in school, or she could have worked career-advancing internships during the summer, or she can go back to school to make herself a more attractive job candidate with an master’s degree. What she’s most likely thinking now, though, is what a waste that time and money was. She could have been doing something else with her resources.

That’s the economics lesson behind Thompson’s employment tragedy. Time and money are scarce, so students should spend it wisely. Perhaps instead of $70,000 and however many years she spent at Monroe College, Thompson could be spending those resources doing something else. And for her predicament, something else is a lot better than nothing at all.

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