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Closing the Tech Ed Gap: Earning a Degree in Employability

By Andrea Belz
May 1, 2012 5:00 AM PT

The current brouhaha over the possible increase of federal student loan rates masks a greater problem: We are graduating a generation of people with college-level skills that our companies don't value.

Closing the Tech Ed Gap: Earning a Degree in Employability

This is the root of the "jobless recovery." Businesses need capabilities that fresh graduates don't offer; thus the recent Huffington Post report that half of today's college graduates are under- or unemployed.

A classical education imparting cultural breadth absolutely creates and sustains a nation of values, rather than a collection of skills without a context. Unfortunately, now that university economics demands that incoming students be valued as customers with long-term revenue potential, the tail wags the dog in driving educational priorities.

Less Work, Better Grades

As a result, the pervasive grade inflation reported by the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy shows students evidently get more bang for their studying buck, even in classes (such as general chemistry) that are rigorous by nature.

They also don't study as hard; last year The New York Times reported that the average student today spends 12-13 hours per week studying, about half that of a student in 1960.

Our college students study less and get higher grades... but then they can't get jobs even after this evidently stupendous performance.

Too bad they don't choose science and technology careers: In "Science and Engineering Indicators 2012," the National Science Foundation reports that the unemployment rate for science and engineering workers is approximately half that of all workers -- and that has been broadly true every year from 1983 to 2010.

In fact, we need these students so badly at the research and graduate levels that we import them at our own expense. In 2009, the federal government funded 63 percent of science and engineering graduate students in trainee programs.

Where do these graduate students come from? We don't generate them ourselves. Approximately 4 percent of all bachelor's degrees awarded in the U.S. in 2008 were in engineering, compared to a whopping 31 percent in China. So we import them.

An Expensive Experiment

Foreign students earn the majority of U.S. doctorates in physics and engineering. In other words, our federal tax dollars are paying foreign students to come and pursue graduate-level research because we simply don't generate enough U.S. students to conduct the research.

In the meantime, our students are pursuing other majors instead and then failing to find jobs.

Today's college students are pursuing an expensive experiment in satisfying other needs besides those of our greater community. They enter college unprepared for a mathematical education. They work less than their counterparts of a previous generation and yet earn inflated grades. Then they hit the marketplace and discover that they can't repay their loans because they are part of a great unemployed population.

In the meantime, our science and technology jobs are filled by the graduate students we import and train at our expense.

The student loan debate is thus part of the greater debate over our student population. In a modern society, are there many majors luxuries that we can no longer afford? Students are mortgaging their futures to obtain degrees that we as a society simply can't use.

Today, the smartest students may not be the ones with the highest (inflated) grades, but the ones who view their degree as the stepping stone to employment.

Andrea Belz is the principal of Belz Consulting and the author of The McGraw-Hill 36 Hour Course in Product Development. Belz acts as a product catalyst, specializing in strategies that transform innovation into profits. She can be reached at andrea-at-belzconsulting-dot-com. Follow her on twitter at @andreabelz.

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How do you feel about accidents that occur when self-driving vehicles are being tested?
Self-driving vehicles should be banned -- one death is one too many.
Autonomous vehicles could save thousands of lives -- the tests should continue.
Companies with bad safety records should have to stop testing.
Accidents happen -- we should investigate and learn from them.
The tests are pointless -- most people will never trust software and sensors.
Most injuries and fatalities in self-driving auto tests are due to human error.