Our daughter Kristen was home over the Labor Day weekend, and I gotta tell you, she’s not finding her sophomore year in college quite as exciting as her freshman year. Seems she is very time constrained and stressed between challenging classes, a prestigious internship, and a busy social life. Hmmmm…looks like the real world is setting in and she’s growing up to meet its demands.
In between enjoying my few precious days with her, I read two timely articles that really hit home. One focused on the growing number of unemployed college graduates while the other one reported the attitudes of those who are employed. Neither was encouraging.
A recent Associated Press article based on a study by the Center for Labor Market Studies and NortheasternUniversity found that last year about 1.5 million, or 53.6 percent, of bachelor’s degree-holders under the age of 25 were either jobless or underemployed in jobs not proportionate with their field of study. About half of that 1.5 million are in jobs that don’t even require a college degree. What’s equally scary is that the number of underemployed increased from the previous year and the 53.6 percent is the highest it’s been in at least 11 years.
On the flip-side, it seems employers are finding this age of workers more needy yet less accepting. The “Wall Street Journal” recently reported that more and more companies are bending over backwards to meet the demands of Generation Y workers…or as I like to call them, “Generation Now,” as in I want it now! Companies are trying to make the work place more fun and are guaranteeing promotions after as little as one year. As Esther Cepeda of “The Washington Post” points out though, this is the generation that grew up in an “everyone gets a trophy” society and a “we’re all winners and deserve everything” mentality. These are the kids who grew up with flat screens in their bedrooms, smart phones in their designer hand-bags, and cable TV on every screen. Their parents drove them to games and recitals all over town and often to other states and they made sure they had every little thing they needed. They are a coddled and self-entitled bunch and they will make up more than 40 percent of our nation’s workforce by 2020. Yikes! They don’t, however, want anything to do with paying their dues at a company or working their way up. Nope, they want paid vacation, stock options, cell phones, company cars, and tons of flexibility. They want it all and they want it their way. In fact, a 2011 survey by Cisco found that 56 percent of 21-to-29-year-olds surveyed would turn down a job offer if they were told they couldn’t go on social media during the work hours. What?!
Possessing big dreams and high self esteem is one thing, expecting something for nothing is another. In the new book “Generation on a Tightrope: A Portrait of Today’s College Student,” authors Arthur Levine and Diane Dean found that 45 percent of undergraduates have taken remedial courses yet 60 percent of students think their grades undervalue the quality of their work. Again, these are the kids who always made the team regardless of skill and were constantly awarded for mediocrity. Why are we surprised that they, as employees and students, expect to be indulged and protected?
Finally, there’s the issue of “Boomerang Kids,” college grads who move back in with their parents due to lack of a job, lack of ambition, or lack of both. Their numbers are increasing at an alarming rate and their presence is not only affecting mom and dad, but our country’s housing, retirement, and health care industries as well. As former Texas congressman Dick Armey said, “It used to be that the American dream was owning your own home. Now it’s getting kids out of the home you own.” If you asked those very kids though, I bet you’d find that these twenty-somethings aren’t any happier living with their ‘rents than their parents are. Still, many, even those living on their own, continue to rely on mom and dad to help with rent, cell phone bills, or insurance payments.
So, as the parent of a college student in an expensive out-of-state university, what should I do? First of all, I told her college is her job and that she’s expected to do well and that secondly, her internship is a class that she’s also expected to excel in even though she won’t get graded in it. It could, after all, maybe just maybe lead to a job upon graduation…in her field! I also want her to really take pleasure in college and all it entails: the friends, the fun, and even the learning. Take interesting electives, excel in your major, and expect the unexpected. Focus more on the doing and less on the getting it done. Prioritize. Rest. It’s meant to be special and literally a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but it’s also serious stuff. Have all the fun you want but know that life is not always about fun and what you put into college will set you up for the rest of your life. It’s a competitive world out there and one in which today’s stresses will only make you stronger and better equipped to succeed. After that, I’ll keep praying and keep my fingers crossed!