This is a question many recent graduates are understandably asking themselves. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for young college graduates (ages 20-24) is 9.1%, the highest on record. One study that got a lot of attention last spring predicted that 85% of college students would be moving back home with their parents after graduation. And let’s not even get into the level of student loan debt these young adults have hanging over their heads.
If you look at the numbers, things can appear pretty bleak. But if 9.1% are unemployed, then that means 89.9% have found work right? It may be taking longer to find something in your field, and many are probably underemployed, but I’m not certain that all the folks are victims of the down economy. Before you judge me for being insensitive and cruel, let me state my case…
Last week I was quoted in a Wall Street Journal article, “From Ivied Halls to Traveling Salesman.” In my work I see literally hundreds of college students supporting themselves. They’re in sales – which is no easy job, but it is a meritocracy and you’re paid based on your performance. But for every student I know who is successful with us, there are hundreds who say “I would never do sales.” I’ve been told by numerous parents, “I didn’t spend $X to send my daughter to college so she could sell knives…” Yet, I can almost guarantee that every student who spends a summer selling with us while in college WILL be able to find a job after graduation, and it will be a job that allows them to make a choice about where to live.
This crisis is not just about the economy. It’s also about helicopter parents, students who don’t think strategically about how they spend their time during college, and people who don’t understand that sometimes underemployed is better than no job at all. There’s a maturity and humility that comes from realizing that a job you may have thought was “beneath you” is better than going back to sneaking in the back door at 3 a.m. and begging for the car.
I happen to have a son who is a college senior graduating in June 2011. This summer his dad and I sat him down and said, “Sam, you need to know you can’t plan on moving back home after graduation.” Shush – I can hear the gasps! What kind of parents are we? Well, we think we are the kind of parents who have confidence in our children and in our own efforts to raise them as independent adults. Please don’t worry; Sam is going to be fine. He’ll find a way to support himself, probably live in a disgusting apartment with some friends, and he’ll figure it out.
I wonder if the helicopter parents out there would stop hovering for a moment and consider what is best for their child. Is it best to have them move back home where the employment prospects may be poor? Or could we let go of the apron strings a bit and encourage them to go where the jobs are? Maybe it’s okay if every whim isn’t satisfied and they have to scrape to make ends meet?
I think some parents have become so enmeshed in their children’s lives that they don’t know how to let go. As a result they have raised sons and daughters who don’t have the skills to move into adulthood. Which makes me wonder if, economic realities aside, we are reaping some of what we sowed when we started arguing with kindergarten teachers over Junior’s report card?
Is there life after college? YES – let your children live it.