As undergraduates entering our last semesters we may already feel the frigid and austere wind of the real world sneaking through the sheltered halls of academia here at NEIU. Short of an existential crisis, most of us are wondering if there will be a good job or even a decent livelihood waiting, and we’re left feeling that our ascent up the scholar’s mountain has only begun. It now seems graduate school is a must, even for entry-level positions in the current job market. Yet, with graduate school adding to the debt and expenses incurred as undergraduates, reluctance to continue in our studies is expected – especially since there is no guarantee that we will find work afterwards. After all, graduate school can be a lot more expensive with some of the better universities, charging tuition rates up to $50,000 per year.
But there’s more to be considered here than the competitive edge gained from a master’s degree. Our parents’ and grandparents’ generations had a much lower number of people enrolled in college, and those few who continued to graduate school after a bachelor’s degree did so for its intellectual merits. In all seriousness, the skill level for jobs in those days meant there were plenty to go around. There now seems to be a disheartening sense that a bachelor’s degree has lost some relative value, and graduate school is more a path to competitiveness than strictly an academic pursuit. Well, that’s to be expected… isn’t it?
It’s all part of our country becoming a post-industrial society and converting our labor force to one suited for an information economy, where forces beyond our control, like creative destruction, replace the work and skill of humans with technology. At the risk of sounding like Karl Marx’s protégé, the observed effect is that our economy’s need for absolute human capital shrinks while its demand for higher training and specialization of human capital increases. The end result: you need more years of schooling to be employable for a job that is higher up the ladder because of the ones that are shed as technology progresses. It’s the same cycle since mankind’s discovery of tools, and the benefits will keep outweighing the side effects.
There are a lot of pros and cons thrown around to get students thinking about whether graduate school is right for them, like more costs and rigorous academic study. It sounds a lot to me like what used to be a big step from high school to college, the overwhelming factors being costs and the need to start being a bread-winner. But history has shown us that if one is to be a productive member of a continually evolving society, education is the ticket to the future. If a bachelor’s degree has indeed lost some of its value it is probably a good thing since it means more people are getting higher education and, thus, the bar has been raised for society as a whole. Sure, graduate school will cost a pretty penny and more hours stuck in a library, but there are worse ways to fall into debt or spend idle time than further cultivating your intellect. So, my fellow classmates, let’s keep our pencils and minds sharp as we make our graduate school choices.