It’s been said that you can work your way up in a corporation, or any workplace for that matter: Start low, work hard, get noticed, and then get promoted. That’s the general process. So at first it seemed fair (albeit slightly dismaying) when The New York Times reported Tuesday that the college degree has become the new high school diploma for getting even the lowest-level job these days.
Typically, young graduates should expect to get the lower jobs, since most of the time, they’re less experienced and less professional than their superiors. But for a low-paying job like a file clerk, a Bachelor’s Degree is an expensive credential, and it leaves us asking how much we would ultimately pay for an education that barely wins us the minimum wage. Not much, we’d hope (that is, we’d expect an expensive degree from a private institution like Boston University to afford us some more leeway in our initial career and salary options) — but then again, the cost of college is always rising, and with it student debts, which will be hard to pay off with a $10-an-hour salary.
Is this fair? On the one hand, yes. As employers receive more and more applicants for even the lower-paying jobs, they have to be selective. Those college graduates willing to work for a low wage are, at least at first glance, more desirable candidates. They are purportedly educated and driven, and thus ostensibly deserve the job.
“College graduates are just more career-oriented,” said Adam Slipakoff, a managing partner at the law firm featured by the Times. “Going to college means they are making a real commitment to their futures. They’re not just looking for a paycheck.”
On the other hand, does awarding low-paying jobs to college graduates take job opportunities away from those unemployed individuals without a college degree? With education expenses so high, not everyone can afford them. Where, if the low-paying positions require degrees, will such individuals work? Moreover, how will they get the chance to work their way up in their career field, if all the menial jobs and networking abilities have been landed by those who can either afford college or afford to live on just a little bit of cash during the first few years off campus? If a high school diploma is now good for little to nothing, chances are the social and economic gaps already existent in the country will only widen.
The problem, of course, arises from the fact that more and more qualified applicants are applying for fewer and fewer jobs. Only the best applicant will get any position. This may encourage more individuals to get that college degree — which can only be a good thing, both for the student and for the country’s general intellectual status. Perhaps universities will respond by offering more cost-accommodating programs. And after that, it’s just a matter of the country finding more jobs with which to accommodate more talents.