The nationwide survey titled, “The American Freshman,” asked first year college students to indicate their reasons for enrolling in a college institution. Among previous popular choices such as,“to learn more about things that interest me,” a record 85.9 percent of the students said that landing a decent job was their purpose for attending college. In 2006 (before the economic decline experienced by the U.S.), that same option received 70.4 percent of the vote.
“I think it’s understandable. Like everybody in the country, these students are reacting to a time of recession,” stated John H. Pryor in an article by the Los Angeles Times. Pryor is the managing director of UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute, which conducts the annual poll. This school year, the poll collected the answers of nearly 204,000 incoming college freshmen from 270 four-year institutions.
At UC Riverside, the Highlander surveyed a sample of 10 UC Riverside students, nine of whom affirmed that their decision to attend college was a career-oriented choice. One of the participants, fourth year media and cultural studies major Jessica Park said, “College gives you the experience and skills you need to succeed in the world. My reason for pursuing a bachelor’s degree is to better my future by earning a more secure spot in the job market.”
The Associate Dean of Social Cciences Anil Deolalikar believes that the likelihood of getting a job in the depressed economy is much higher after having graduated from college. “The unemployment rate among those with a college degree is 4.1 percent…[the rate] among those who have completed high school is 8.7 percent, and it is 13.8 percent among individuals with less than a high school diploma,” stated Deolalikar in an interview with the Highlander. “Numerous studies over the years have documented that not only are the wages of college graduates significantly higher than those high school graduates, but that the gap between the two types of wages has increased sharply over the last 20-30 years.”
The salary variance between high school and college graduates is attributable to the disappearance of jobs that led to a middle-class life for high school graduates. As noted by UC Riverside Professor of Economics Victor Lippit, the job market has become increasingly divided into menial jobs and jobs requiring a college education. The UCLA survey report further concluded that the demand for college education rises more among individuals who desire to have a family.
According to Gary Dymski, professor of economics at UC Riverside, a college degree is an important signifier of success to both the student who earns it and to the employer. For the prospective employer, a college degree signifies that the holder has basic writing, reading and computational skills and is willing to invest in their future. “Earning a degree sends the message to those who succeed that they have successfully negotiated a path through a complex institution, which leads to plentiful opportunities, but it is only available for those who have the initiative to seize them,” concluded Dymski.