The New York Times has an article today about a trend in which students at top universities (aka, Harvard and the other Ivies) seem to be taking default paths toward investment jobs after graduation. The piece contains interviews with a few professors and students who say they’re troubled that so many of the nation’s brightest go directly on to big paying, private-sector jobs instead of using their intelligence in public service.
First, I’ll say I don’t even fully believe that this is a real “default” choice. The mix of my friends who have gone onto high paying jobs vs. those who are going straight to grad school or taking service-type jobs (peace corps, non-profits) is pretty even. I realize this isn’t exactly a scientific poll, but it’s as scientific as the anecdotes the NYT shares to defend its position.
But let’s, just for a moment, assume there truly is a complete lack of imagination going into the post-college decisions of America’s brightest. Might there be a better explanation than the implied, “God, kids today are selfish”?
Since I’m on an Ani roll from last night, these lyrics came to mind right away (from Not a Pretty Girl):
and generally my generation
wouldn’t be caught dead working for the man
and generally I agree with them
trouble is you gotta have youself an alternate plan
and I have earned my disillusionment
I have been working all of my life
and I am a patriot
I have been fighting the good fight
Ok, so these lyrics don’t exactly say everything I want to say, but they seemed too perfect not to post. And I think there’s definitely an element of a possible explanation in these lyrics. With the wealth gap growing and unemployment rising, it’s difficult to imagine new college graduates wouldn’t be concerned about their personal financial stability in the future. And I know from personal experience just how difficult it is to find that “alternate plan.”
No, I can’t become a folk songstress like Ani has. No, I can’t find work at a non-profit with my complete lack of “significant” work experience. See, students have already done the low-paying work for years, and they, like everyone else, are looking for ways to get away from it. The fact is, it’s pretty difficult to manage to do so when “The Man” has your hands tied behind your back with the debt you face from student loans and the fact that there aren’t exactly people knocking on your doors to get you into public service (meanwhile, corporations are truly knocking on the doors of these Ivies to recruit the most intelligent students, and they’ve got a host of entry-level positions designed just to acclimate you).
And let’s face it, universities could be doing a little more to show students how they can make a living without selling out to work they don’t care about. Instead liberal arts colleges seem to present two possible paths for students immediately after graduation: 1-Take the careerist approach to finding the most lucrative offer or 2- Go into academia and continue to explore ideas like your professors do. Finding a third path requires a fair amount of originality, passion, and sticktoitiveness.
In an economy and super-competitive culture like this one, it just makes sense that we’re going to have trouble finding many people willing to find and then make those public service sacrifices before they’ve been able to secure their own well being. Selfish? Maybe. But that’s what this economy and universities tend to breed.