Color me overeducated

Posted by mouthyb | Posted in | Posted on 10:07 PM

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The joke, among my friends, is that I'm planning on getting all the degrees. My partner just calls me Doctor Girlfriend. The desire to get continued degrees is something that, while I enjoy the chance to learn more, I have some reservations about. The national narrative about employment and education is that there is no middle ground which helps with employment: your options are over or under-educated, and both are undesirable to employers. The narrative is panicking; if education is not a way to better one's economic future, what the hell does? What avenues are left for people who don't have money already?

I attribute the above discouragements and national debate over whether we should bother to pay for education (for the sake of competition among people with merit, of course) to the American "pull the ladder up behind me/I got mine" mentality: a zero sum, any way to the top, Social Darwinist justification.

It is not, however, a justification which is accurate to describe lifetime gains for education, and even long term gains. Even a BA or BS brings the average unemployment rate down almost five percentage points. A Masters' degree brings the average unemployment rate down another five points. Even an associate's degree brings unemployment down 7 points.

So why is it that the national narrative centers around devaluing education and discussing education as potentially too costly to bother to pay or help pay for?

At a guess, it's the misperception that there can be only one.*

I won't argue that college is a perfect fit for everyone; there are any amount of students who don't benefit from college structures. They may never have been prepared for college, may not be able to afford college, be simply incapable of the intellectual rigor required, or be so systematically discouraged by prejudice that they cannot succeed.

But if the discussion becomes who 'deserves' to go to college, it often becomes, whether intentional or not, a conversation dominated by people who usually succeed in that system. Everyone else gets scared away, by the cost and fear of being without a job, or gets bumped off by the systematic devaluing of their abilities because they have an apparent non-white ethnicity and/or are the wrong gender or orientation to be allowed to show skill in the field they love.

And maybe that's the biggest part of the threat of education, all those people with social capital and the ability to analyze what's wrong with the situation. After all, the people who don't usually gain in the system will often notice exactly what's wrong with it.

* It's amazing how pale and male that one tends to be. Amazing coincidences, that's what makes up real life.

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