4-year degree is ‘ticket to nowhere’

Underemployed four-year graduates are enrolling in two-year colleges to earn job credentials. A business graduate with $60,000 in student loans calls her bachelor’s degree “just like a ticket to nowhere.” She’s now training for a certificate in paralegal studies.

“Some college” is better than a high school diploma in the workforce. If “some” means a vocational certificate in a technical field, it can lead to higher pay than a non-technical bachelor’s degree.

About Joanne


  1. I wonder how many of these students were actually encouraged to start their students at a community college where they could earn a(n) associate’s degree in a employable field, and then get a transfer agreement to a four year college, if that’s the course they want to go?

    IMO, might have saved the young lady at least 40-45 thousand in student loan debt and given her some usable job skills in the process.

    • Stacy in NJ says:

      Yeah, this. I think we have a huge problem culturally. We’ve spent years telling kids that college is the way to go and there’s a stigma attached to community colleges – it’s for the losers. But the current reality doesn’t match out dated norms. A huge part of the problem is parents, high school teachers, and guidance counselors who are encouraging kids to “reach for the stars”. No, first get those basic skills in place – figure out a way to respectably support yourself – then reach for the stars.

      I feel sorry for this young lady. She was probably poorly advised – if not by her parents and guidance counselors then by the culture at large.

  2. Richard Aubrey says:

    Good lord.
    Well, being employable is a good thing and a BA/BS that doesn’t fit a job isn’t the same as being employable.
    Said it before: At least for guys, we had a standing military of three million from about 1950 to 1990, or thereabouts. Draft until the early 70s. Meant an artificial labor shortage for the youngest people.
    Except for STEM and financial, most corporate entry-level jobs are for sales. Hiring people need more than a degree for sales hires.

  3. cranberry says:

    I wish her the best. According to the College Navigator, the College of DuPage has an 11% graduation rate. 35% transfer-out rate. This is not a “sure thing” for the average student.

    • Mark Roulo says:

      She has already shown that she can finish one degree. I expect that *her* odds of finishing a 2-year degree are higher than average because of this.


      What I *do* wonder about, though, is what job(s) she expected to have after graduation. The article says, “After graduation from Carthage, she moved back to her hometown of Freeport, where she found herself vying for positions that, in an earlier era, would require only a high school diploma. She sold AT&T packages and insurance for Bankers Life and Casualty and managed an office for Prudential.”


      So … sales and she worked in an office. What work did she expect an undergraduate business degree to lead to if not sales and working in an office? I’m actually quite puzzled by this …

  4. Elizabeth says:

    Pretty much a lot of these insurance jobs have required a degree for a long time- insurance can be relatively complicated and many insurance companies offer investment products. Granted, it’s not what I wanted to do, but for general business majors sales (of something)is the career path. If she did not want that, she could have taken the accounting option in B-School. Honestly, I don’t understand what these young people were thinking, particularly when the information is out there for them, and has been for a long time. Businesses can’t survive unless their products/services are sold. So sales is the lifeblood of business. Good salespeople make the big bucks and get promoted.

  5. Seems to be an issue with choice of major; I don’t see many engineering graduates unemployable. As a (past) employer, I tend to regard a general business degree as only slightly above a degree in french renaissance literature….not a real indication of ability to fill a position effectively.

    We need to ask why high school students aren’t being effectively informed about employment possibilities when selecting post-high school options.

    • One of the biggest reasons I have encountered is that I have never encountered a guidance counselor who had any real interest or expertise in academics, either in HS or in reference to college and career paths. Those who become guidance counselors seem to be vastly disproportionately interested in the emotional/social side of things. I have a whole collection of horror stories about counselors giving parents and students completely wrong information about SAT, SAT II and AP testing and about the numbers of honors and AP classes necessary to end up in the top 25% of the class (or better); not just misleading but flat-out wrong. Fortunately, at that high-performing HS, the parent and student network was much better-informed. Many schools don’t have the latter.

    • cranberry says:

      Most school personnel transition from high school to college to graduate school to their workplaces, which are…schools! They may have worked during their studies, but not on a career track in industry. Thus, the people advising students may have no experience in work outside of a school setting.

  6. When I attended high school in the late 1970’s, we had a mandatory 9 week course called ‘career orientation’ where you learned what things were needed for what jobs/careers.

    We had classroom visits and field trips (one position I should have trained for right out of high school was Air Traffic Controller, since Reagan fired the whole lot of them when they went on strike), but we also learned how to read an employment ad, write a resume, fill out a job application (correctly), dress for an interview, and generally learn the things needed to obtain a job after graduation.

    The counselors could help, but in reality, this class taught most of us more in 9 weeks than you could learn in probably a year of professional courses.

    Also, many students (and their parents) jump into college without really researching it, and as a result, they get bit.

    From a M*A*S*H episode:

    They taught us everything about music at Julliard, except how to make a living at it. (good quote, actually).