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College has lesser degree of certainty


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    Melvin Lopez prepares for class at Cal State Long Beach.

    - Sarah Gardner / Marketplace

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    Melvin Lopez in his storytelling class at Cal State Long Beach.

    - Sarah Gardner / Marketplace

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    Sophomore Hector Torres majors in microbiology at Cal State Long Beach.

    - Sarah Gardner / Marketplace

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    Sophomore Hector Torres, who is majoring in microbiology at Cal State Long Beach, works with a fellow student in a science lab.

    - Sarah Gardner / Marketplace

Sophomore Hector Torres majors in microbiology at Cal State Long Beach.

Marilee Samuelson has been advising Cal State Long Beach students for 30 years.

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal:There's probably a pretty specific set of images that pops into your mind when you hear the phrase "The American Dream." A house in the suburbs. A steady job. A better future for your kids. At the very least, this recession has made Americans a little less sure about whether they can ever have that dream. So we're going to spend some time this week looking at how it might be changing.

For years, a college education was the first stepping stone to a well-paying job and a bright future. Today as we begin our series "The Next American Dream," we head to California State University Long Beach, where more than a third of the students are the first in their families to go to college. From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Sarah Gardner tells us that college stepping stone isn't as rock-solid as it used to be.


SARAH GARDNER: Hector Torres grew up in the San Joaquin Valley, watching his parents and other Mexican immigrants toil in California's multibillion-dollar farm industry.

HECTOR TORRES: And for me to live through that and see generations and generations get stuck at the same level, at the same job, it motivated me to know that I can step away from that.

Torres did step away. He's now a sophomore majoring in microbiology. Torres was valedictorian at his high school and won a prestigious scholarship to Cal State Long Beach. But when he arrived on campus, he immediately sensed he needed to up his game.

TORRES: It's a very big campus. And I thought about it. If I'm competing here, I wonder what's the level of competition in a private university? I have to be on top of everything.

Torres is right to be worried. College tuition is going up, job opportunities are down, and more Americans are going to college now than ever before.

Employers today have the luxury of choosing the 4.0's over the 3.5's. Torres says he plans to take an extra year to get his degree so he can keep up his grades. He says he's reading and studying more than he did his freshman year, and he talks about needing "that extra edge."

TORRES: I think in order to now have a strong resume and go into the workforce . . . at least a master's. Because now a bachelor's doesn't make it anymore.

Turns out Torres is right. And he's wrong.

A B.A. still makes it in the sense that college grads earn about 75 percent more than high school graduates. That's called the college wage "premium."

Patrick Callan is president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.

PATRICK CALLAN: Never before has education beyond high school been so important to the American Dream.

But that college premium is high partly because the earnings of the folks who don't go to college are so low. Economists say a bachelor's degree is is no longer the ticket to middle-class security that it once was. And the college wage "premium" has actually plateaued over the past eight years.

MIT's David Autor says technology and globalization may be eroding the value of some college-level jobs, like accounting, stockbroking and sales.

DAVID AUTOR: Many types of even low-level positions, some of them can actually be done by computers and others can be done in other countries. So some of those things may actually be putting some pressure on the wages of moderately skilled college grads.

PhD's, doctors and lawyers, on the other hand, are doing fine. But not everyone's cut out for graduate studies or med school.

Cal State Long Beach knows this and tries to advise its students on how to get that extra edge with a B.A. alone.

Marilee Samuelson is head of academic advising here. She counsels kids to hone their writing and speaking skills, take internships, and add what she calls "meat" to their degrees.

MARILEE SAMUELSON: We want them to do minors, and we want them to do certificates. So, as an example, if we're talking to an art major, we might suggest that they do a marketing minor. Or a philosophy major, we might say that human resource management might be a good minor for them.

So, a graduate conversant in Plato and collective bargaining.

And those certificates she mentioned? Those are sort of real-world electives, like technical writing.

Melvin Lopez is among those taking Samuelson's advice.

MELVIN LOPEZ: I'm 20 years old and I'm majoring in criminal justice with a minor in communications.

Lopez works part-time to help support his parents. Both are from El Salvador. He grew up in a neighborhood scarred by gangs and drugs, and now he dreams of law school and a career as a prosecutor.

LOPEZ: There's a lot of people from the neighborhood I come from that, they're comfortable with where they're at. They don't see that they need to better themselves or live, how do you say, more like a stable life. I see myself, you know, living a more productive life.

(INSTRUCTOR: Once upon a time there were three little pigs . . .)

Lopez is taking a storytelling class to cultivate his speaking skills. Prosecutors, after all, have to think fast on their feet and tell a good story. Today, he gets to play the bad guy in a fairy tale improv.

LOPEZ and CLASSMATE: I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house down. . . .

Lopez hopes his communications minor will broaden his opportunities after graduation, just in case he can't swing law school.

LOPEZ: "If law school doesn't work out, I've thought about maybe doing some counseling. 'Cause, you know, there's always the need to have counselors and stuff like that.

Well, maybe in a good economy, anyway. Lopez is optimistic things will turn around, but he's also a realist. He's keeping his American Dream in check.

LOPEZ: I hope to have a house and live a stable financial life. I'm not planning on being filthy rich or anything like that. But I just want to live a life where I don't have to worry about the things that my parents have had to worry about.

Things like paying medical bills and next month's rent.

In Long Beach, Calif., I'm Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

About the author

Sarah Gardner is a reporter on the Marketplace sustainability desk covering sustainability news spots and features.

Sophomore Hector Torres majors in microbiology at Cal State Long Beach.

Marilee Samuelson has been advising Cal State Long Beach students for 30 years.

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I disagree with the majority of people on this board. A Master's degree is a unique degree which allows individuals to learn a broad set of skills(MBA). It also allows them to critically analyze research and assertions which are important in managing risk and making competitive decisions.
While the economy is in the tanks and employers are faced with the higher costs of energy and healthcare, they will undoubtedly cut back on the overpriced Master's students and simply expect more out of the juniors. However, you can't beat a horse forever.
Quite frankly, those jobs which are going overseas and never coming back are the ones usually filled by bachelors degree holders. highly specialized and qualified individuals will always have a place in the labor market.

I see from that "Top Rated Engineer's" story confirmation of my suspicions: What gets you ahead is the ability to make people FEEL GOOD, not your ability to Do Good. OK, its bad grammar, but I hope you can see past the grammer to the point: EQ and Social Intelligence are becoming more and more important as there are whole countries full of people who are educated and speak four languages and can do your job from half a planet away.

But we only TEACH to the COGNITIVE intelligence.

So our pretending that simply hard work, skill, dedication, passion are enough to get our children a chance at The Dream will waste decades of their lives and create frustration so great that many a deluded person will suicide.

Now that you've read that point, RE-read these paragraphs and you will see that this story dances around that point:

"Employers today have the luxury of choosing the 4.0's over the 3.5's. Torres says he plans to take an extra year to get his degree so he can keep up his grades. He says he's reading and studying more than he did his freshman year, and he talks about needing "that extra edge."

[NOTE: That extra edge would be an ability to read bosses and tell them what they want to hear, to schmooze the board of directors and, like the CEO of Bear Stearns, get the CEO job even if you don't know anything about investments! ]

"Economists say a bachelor's degree is is no longer the ticket to middle-class security that it once was. And the college wage "premium" has actually plateaued over the past eight years.

MIT's David Autor says technology and globalization may be eroding the value of some college-level jobs, like accounting, stockbroking and sales.

DAVID AUTOR: Many types of even low-level positions, some of them can actually be done by computers and others can be done in other countries. So some of those things may actually be putting some pressure on the wages of moderately skilled college grads."

{and actually the KILLER point in the story: ]
"But when he arrived on campus, he immediately sensed he needed to up his game.

TORRES: It's a very big campus. And I thought about it. If I'm competing here, I wonder what's the level of competition in a private university? I have to be on top of everything."

If I teleported back into my old self in High School and College again, I would now realize that the grades are a distraction. THE most important skills to learn are brown-nosing (if you're actually GOOD at it, nobody will CALL you a Brown-Noser) and "being a good fit for the organization" and adopting the right language, telling people what they want to hear. Free Speech is for Free Citizens. Not employees. Not if they want to get ahead.

Sorry that sounds so cynical, but I would have not wasted 20 years of my life, for example BUILDING a University Recycling Program and building WRIR, only to have those projects handed over to less qualified, less dedicated, less passionate people. Those projects slowed their growth rate considerably after I was replaced. But the important point? NOBODY CARES. Because the deciders were more comfortable with my replacements even if the performance was less.

And I have seen this repeated for and with other people I know. Don't bother saying there's something obviously wrong with me, because I can see my failure clearly now: I focused on the cognitive skills and not on developing my Emotional and Social Intelligence.

Don't repeat my mistake.
Don't buy the PC garbage that hard work and dedication and knowledge will work. That's only true if you can connect to the decision-makers emotionally and socially. If so, it is probably so transparent for you that its like having a fish notice its ability to float above the bottom of the ocean is due to its ability to float in the water. The fish will say, "what water"?

I advise everyone, do not get a masters degree unless it is required. In 1982, when I got my MS in Technology, I worked for the biggest phone company in the world. When my boss found out I had a Masters, he told me that I had educated myself out of job and would have to move my family to another city to get a promotion. I kept my mouth shut and raised my sons without ever talking about it again. 5 years later, another supervisor told me it was useless to have an advanced degree in Technology. He didn't have a degree at all. That ruined any chances of a promotion again. After being rated as a top engineer, I retired in 2001. In 2009, I was working as a contract engineer at the bigest phone company in the world. I told my boss that I had a second Masters degree in Psychology and practiced on the side. I was downsized by 5 pm. I guess he didn't have a degree either.

A bachelor is good if you are young. Many workers who lost their job in the last two years are 40+. A bachelor degree at that age makes little difference because you are considered too old. The common saying is that I just terminated a person that age, I need a young person to follow into the company rising career path not some older worker that is going to retire. Yes, even with pensions lost, people still think older people are going to retire.
The prejudice is high and fueled by the insurance industry that penalizes companies with an aging work force - higher premiums. So, what are we going to do about this? Make all older people go away and hope the young baby boomer age is comming back with low wages, low health care cost and buy buy buy?

Some degrees still have relevance. For instance a recent graduate in international relations can find work easily, with good future prospects. The B.A. is even terminal. A masters degree is unnecesssary in International Relations. It's better to specialize in a particular field. The Ph.D is only useful if you wish to teach.

Continued... Company Profile: Chesapeake Energy: Loca: Lake Point Towers: Project: Data warehouse Project: Staff: 50% South India Students who don't know what they are talking about in IT. Job Description: Informatica Specialist! Education: recent Graduate with Bacherlor's Degree and straight out of some India University!

The reason why graduating american students dont have jobs in american firms is because they do not have a 5 year resume as the freshly graduated H1B students have! The underlying emphasis is H1B + Fake Resume's!

Dear Manager:

Just a quick question from a Vancouverite. How can people driving in the car hear your program everyday? Just love marketplace!! Thanks!

i agree because just because you have a degree doesnt mean you will have good job.because the soceity today seem like no one hiring the place that is hiring can well are looking for the best so i do agree. You need to stress more about education.

i think it very important because there so many people that has the opportunity and just wasted that immigrnat from el salvador i believe it a very good example of all the students immigrants

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