I agree with you, Jess, that the poor job and internship prospects for today’s college students are more about the underperforming economy than an over-supply of participation trophies , or any other Gen-Y generalizations on which people like to pin such trends. But I disagree that Gen-Yers’ (that is to say, "our") entitlement is purely economy-driven. Following your theory, that sense of privilege should diminish with the foundering economy. That would mean that our peers, many of whom are getting laid off or fear they soon will be, should right about now be tossing aside dreams of jobs that let us save the world and stay intellectually stimulated all day every day-all while wearing jeans and working from home when we feel like it!-and settling for whatever jobs we can get. Instead, we’re going to grad school.
The idea that young people choose to weather tough economic times in the safety of university libraries is nothing new. What’s different this time around is the opportunity costs that we Gen-Yers are all but ignoring when we choose the post-bac path. Education is expensive-much more so that it was for our parents, having gone up at more than twice the rate of inflation over the past two decades. The federal income-based repayment plan that kicked in this month underscores how bad the student loan trap has gotten. People are rejoicing over a plan that calculates what you owe each month based on what you make (a proposal so reasonable, it’s shocking it took this long) and lets you off the hook after 25 years (right when you’re gearing up to put your own kids through school).
That’s better, sure, but still pretty bad. Even with the new repayment plan, which only applies to federal loans, a two-year master’s degree could mean an entire adulthood of paying off loans. You’ll still probably have private loans on top of the federal ones, and ever-growing interest on both. The IBR plan reduces your monthly payments, but sticks you with up to 25 years of hacking away at your debt (which Smart Money estimates as $50,000 for the average grad school grad) before the government steps in and clears you of the rest. Oh, but you’ll still have to pay taxes on what was forgiven. To make matters worse, all that debt can hurt your employment chances . And in careers where a master’s degree doesn’t even do you much good , income-wise (like, say, mine), the salary you didn’t get while you were a student combined with the salary increase you won’t get for having been one are two more reasons not to take the higher-higher ed road.
Still, 20-somethings are turning to grad school as some great liberating option. Workplace got you down? Get another degree! You deserve it! In some cases, it will pay off. But often, it seems like one more reflection of that sense of invincibility and entitlement that our generation is often accused of having: indulge in education now; hope those pesky responsibilities that come with it don’t find us later.
Photograph by Getty Images.