Some years ago, I overheard a spirited conversation on a park bench between a young man and an inquisitive - some would say meddling - older woman who were discussing the dreary employment landscape of the moment.
The man lamented that despite a number of interviews he was unable to land a job and was working part time as a stocker in a large liquor store.
The woman wagged her finger at him in the manner of a dour aunt in the middle of a lecture and insinuated that he should have "prepared himself for the real world instead of goofing off."
"What were you doing all this time?" she demanded to know.
"Getting a PhD," he replied somberly.
I recalled this economic/educational vignette when I read somewhere that this year roughly 2 million college students will graduate and then hopefully head off to the first leg of their working careers.
But the post-recession effects have recently shed a national spotlight on an issue once relegated primarily to the back pages and even statistical agate - the crushing amount of accumulating student debt made exponentially worse by a dismal job market.
According to figures from the Economic Policy Institute the unemployment rate for college-educated workers under the age of 25 is about 9 percent, which is nearly double the rate of baccalaureate workers older than that.
Want more good news?
College tuition costs have long ago sped past the rate of inflation. The median price tag for a four-year college is about 300-400 percent more than it was circa 1980. The average student loan debt calculated in 2009 was about $25,000 and, believe me, as a father with a daughter in a private college in Pennsylvania, I can assure you ours is significantly higher than that.
Recently, AccountingToday.com ran a newswire item citing a Junior Achievement survey that stated two thirds of high school teens are changing their college plans - either by working more to save up, or by attending a school that is closer to home or attending a junior college for two years before transferring to a four-year institution.
Student borrowing is approaching the $700 billion mark and the Federal Education Department projects that nearly half of student loans over the past decade are expected to go into default. And guess who's ultimately on the hook for that?
Uh huh. The taxpayers.
I even read where some gazillionaire in Silicon Valley has promised $100,000 each to 24 students if they leave college and pursue an entrepreneurial path.
Growing up, many of us were, ahem, "encouraged" by our parents to study in order to get into a good - and most likely expensive - college.
But now it may become more of a debate on value proposition than future job security. I would hate to think after spending roughly six times more on college tuition than my parents spent buying their first house, my children will one day be on the receiving end of a park bench lecture.
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