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Georgetown University that looked into this dilemma.
labor market demands more specialization. So, the game has changed,"
says Anthony Carnevale, the report's co-author and director of
Georgetown's Center on Education and the Workforce.
Highlights From Georgetown's Study
(1.) Unemployment is generally higher for
non-technical majors, such as the arts (9.8 percent) or law and public
policy (9.2 percent).
(2.) Unemployment rates for
recent graduates in information systems, concentrated in clerical
functions, is high (14.7 percent) compared with mathematics (5.9
percent) and computer science (8.7 percent).
Unemployment rates are relatively low for recent graduates in education
(5 percent), engineering (7 percent), health and the sciences (4.8
percent) because they are tied to stable or growing industry sectors and
(4.) Graduates in psychology and social
work also have relatively low rates (8.8 percent) because almost half of
them work in health care or education sectors.
— Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce
Carnevale says students probably aren't choosing the right degrees because they haven't been given the right guidance.
Chasing The Elusive American Dream Carnevale says some industries that sound promising aren't, given slow hiring in the current economy.
Like biomedical engineering. That's what Sandra Mantilla majored in at Florida International University.
parents came from Colombia with the American dream in mind: Go to
college, get a degree and a good job. Engineering seemed to be solid
career choice. She intended to work after undergrad for a few years and
then return to school for a master's or Ph.D.
She's had internships at NASA, the National Institutes of Health and at two universities.
she's been looking for a job since November. Despite job fairs and what
seemed to be a few good interviews, she hasn't found work. The plan has
changed, and now Mantilla intends to go straight back to school. Mantilla says she doesn't think she had enough information to set realistic expectations when she first went to college.
was a little bit hard for me, when I was in high school, to get the
guidance because I was a first-generation college student, so I didn't
really have all the information," she says. "On top of that, there was
the language barrier — I was still learning English."
Sandra Mantilla studied biomedical engineering and chemistry, but she thinks she could have used better guidance in high school.
Courtesy of Sandra Mantilla
If she could go back, she says she would have done more research
and maybe even held off on going to college to save up money. Her former
high school classmates who don't have four-year degrees have moved up,
working as medical assistants or retail managers.
"It's sad to
see that a lot of people who I went to high school with, who didn't go
to college, are doing much better than I am," Mantilla says.
She's not very optimistic, she says, but her parents and fiance are.
whenever I get extremely negative, they are the ones keeping me going,"
she says. "And I just try not to stay still and not doing anything. I
keep looking every morning, I sign up for job announcements, I get
emails and I keep applying and I'm hoping that one day something will
come my way." Carnevale says Mantilla's lack of guidance is not uncommon.
United States really has no counseling apparatus. We have  to 400
students for every counselor in high school," he says.
Carnevale says, college guidance offices are generally geared toward
fulfilling curriculum requirements rather than shaping long-term career
goals and expectations.
'If I Had A Time Machine' Timothy
Ryan also could have used some extra advice. He has a bachelor's degree
in communications from Rowan University in New Jersey.
Carnevale says unemployment for communications majors is "relatively high" at about 8 percent. Ryan says he had no idea.
Timothy Ryan studied communications at Rowan
University in New Jersey. He's saddled with debt, holding a degree for a
profession that has an 8 percent unemployment rate.
Courtesy of Timothy Ryan
"To be honest, if I had a time machine, I wouldn't mind going back right now and telling myself, 'Think otherwise!' " he says.
Ryan tries not to think about his debt — he has about $41,000 worth with $2,000 accrued in interest.
mother has a disability and his father is retired, and neither of them
finished college. Now they're living off Social Security, and Ryan says
for them, "that's just enough to get by."
Ryan has found himself on the unfortunate side of what Carnevale calls "two classes of students."
[class] is the people who go through their entire post-secondary
education with no debt — their parents pay," Carnevale says. "And then
we have a second class of students who are accruing enormous debt and
The circumstances for the latter group reduce
graduation rates, he says. If they do graduate, Carnevale says, they
have huge debt, which "influences their prospects mightily."
In Search Of Solutions Carnevale says "the answer to our problems" is a piece of legislation known as the "Student Right to Know Before You Go Act."
Related NPR Stories
The bill, introduced in May, is sponsored by Democratic Sen. Ron
Wyden of Oregon and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. It would
require universities to disclose the earnings of alumni and the nature
of their employment to prospective students.
"It is time in the
American education system, given its cost, given the fact that most of
us now require it to get a decent job, to align it much more carefully
with job prospects," he says.
But that doesn't mean young people should stop exploring and learning in their own time, Carnevale says.
is absolutely the prerogative of the young to find their way as best
they can and to change their mind. It is an exploratory process — in
school and in the labor market," he says.
However, if the goal
of higher education is to "help people live more fully in their time,"
as Carnevale puts it, they need more information.
"We don't want them feeling their way in the dark," he says.