To School or not to School?

In between talking to a whole bunch of people associated with the JVS Scholarship Program, JVSWorks got to reading…and thinking. The impetus for said ruminations is an enlightening and alarming story from the L.A. Times written by Alana Semuels provocatively headlined “Degrees not needed, college grads find.”

Reading on, we learn that in New York, where Semuels conducted her research, a bar tender can make $80,000 to $90,000. The bartenders Semuels interviewed had advanced college degrees, but had accepted these better paying jobs – which are not usually thought to need formal higher education -  rather than hold out for something more suited to their training. Semuels quotes a bartender with a Master’s degree in economics and a taxi driver with a Bachelor’s in accounting.

A woman with a Master’s in biochemistry paid for her education – undergraduate and graduate – and her wedding by tending bar. Then she took a job in a lab and earned 2/3 of her former salary.

The take-aways here are numerous and conflicting. Thanks to the effects of the recession, the labor market is flooded with well-educated candidates who could end up being offered jobs over candidates who don’t have degrees. Thus, you’re finding more highly educated people in fields where college hasn’t typically been a requirement. Firefighting and taxi driving, for example. By this logic, it would seem to make sense for someone to earn that college degree and remain competitive for all jobs. Plus, by being in school, you can presumably wait out the effects of the recession and hopefully hit the job market at a time when there are actually more jobs to be had (optimism: it’s a good thing)

On the flip side, education costs big time. So how much sense does it make to rack up a ton of student loan debt only to earn a degree you won’t end up needing or using?

From Drexel University economist Paul Harrington, as quoted in Semuels’ article:

“It puts college grads in a condition that’s unique out of the last 30 to 40 years. The yield from investing in college, students’ ability to pay off debt, has diminished.”


Food for thought, certainly. Maybe the take-away is “school or no school, get a New York City bartending job while you figure it out.”