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Killjoy post-secondary education statistics discourage students from graduating

Published: Thursday, Dec. 6 2012 10:20 a.m. MST

I’ve known Kevin Coughlin since he was a high school student. Seeing him annually where he volunteers at a summer youth program has been a bit like watching time-lapse photography of the Millennial generation as a whole. A gifted student with a love for baseball and an unassuming demeanor sounds like such a cliché that he might be easy to overlook.

As his undergraduate commencement approached last spring, I noticed his social media posts grew more frequent, laced with a gallows humor uncharacteristic of the young man who always smiled so earnestly and easily. “College graduation felt like an inevitability. It was anti-climactic. It wasn’t a feeling of accomplishment.”

This was from a young man with a near perfect grade point average who graduated near the top of the largest class to ever matriculate at Suffolk University. “Money was running out. I had to move back home. I didn’t have a job, but some of my friends did. I’ve never been good at waiting and so much of the stress was in the waiting.”

Most students are told that the selection of a college and major course of study are opportunities to begin working on the blank canvas of self-direction that lies before them. On Tuesday, McKinsey & Company released a report, “Education to Employment: Designing a System That Works.” The report, based on surveys of 8,500 young people, educators and employers in nine countries, including the United States, paints that canvas with some rather dark colors.

According to the report, recent graduates and employers are roughly on the same page about one thing: just short of half (45 and 42 percent respectively) believe that post-secondary education is adequately preparing young people for the job market. Employers took it a step further, with 39 percent stating that a skills shortage is the primary reason for continued vacancies at the entry-level.

Given the substantial net cost of tuition for most families, these are frightening statistics. But it would be a mistake to interpret these problems as reason for making decisions about majors strictly on future salary, or worse, forgoing higher education all together.

The good news is that you can balance practical matters, such as cost and return on investment (ROI) with your student’s intellectual interests. When discussing possible majors, explore the following in sequence:

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