For the past few weeks I’ve been focusing on higher education’s role in grooming Gen Y and Gen Z for the workforce, and it’s striking a chord with readers (see here and here). Specifically, Zachary Huhn, founder of the Student Intern Network, which connects students, interns and grads with employers and opportunities. Huhn got in touch with me directly and said, “I think the value of a college degree is being grossly misrepresented and I think as of now students and grads need to be problem solvers and find solutions on their own when necessary.”
I interviewed Huhn, a millennial like myself, to discuss the problems he sees with higher education and how he thinks we can overcome them — what it means to become problem solvers. It’s wonderful to see such great passion from my peers on this subject, and I’d love to hear what you think as well. Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Is there a difference between what millennials need from higher education versus what generations before them needed?
Huhn: Millennials have been great in figuring out how to create solutions for problems old and new. Technology allows us to freely share information and efficiently execute new ideas. As technology continues to disrupt sectors from finance to education, social and educational trends will continue to evolve at a more rapid rate. Millennials are the generation at the forefront of all of these advances and represent a demographic 7 percent larger than that of the baby boomers. I don’t understand why our education system doesn’t reflect the new needs for students at a higher level. Until that happens, millennials will have to continue to “hustle” if they want to be successful. Internship programs, networking events, community involvement — whatever it may be, it is important to make connections and create your own opportunities when you can. A favorite saying of mine is from a business mentor at American University. He simply loves to remind me that “the market rewards action.”
In general, universities aren’t preparing grads for jobs that will be available in 10 years. In the past a student was told to get good grades so they can graduate and move right into a good job. Today educators spew the same pipe dream, but it is simply not an accurate reality. The reality is that college is big business, and they are milking students (and the government) for every penny while paying little attention to setting grads up for career success.
College tuition is increasing 2.5 times more rapidly than inflation while technology should be making a higher-level education more affordable and accessible to everyone. Instead, 55 percent of grads are underemployed or unemployed, and more in debt than ever. That statistic will continue to get worse. The competitive job market equates to a less valuable college degree, and the increased cost of the high-level education creates an immediate debt burden while young adults try to prepare to live the American dream — if they can afford to pursue college at all. Why are we encouraging all students to pursue a four-year degree instead of technical or on-the-job training for a realistic career path? Why don’t we subsidize more programs of that type? Only one in three of the fastest growing jobs over the next decade will even require a degree. You would think that it would be much more economically beneficial to have a thriving, capable workforce as opposed to a bunch of unemployed, overqualified grads.
How is this affecting millennials once they enter the workforce?
Huhn: “It seems to be a system more focused on credentialing instead of educating and truly preparing students to enter the workforce,” according to Austin Diamond, a managing partner at Student Intern Network. Recent employment statistics reflect that experience, not a college degree, is what employers think new hires are lacking. Over 80 percent of employers prefer to hire candidates with at least one or two years of relevant internship experiences. Moreover, 60 percent of employers feel like grads aren’t prepared when entering the workforce. One clear solution is to provide better career planning and counseling for high school students ready to transition.
The $1.2 trillion national student loan debt is threatening to cripple the economy from the housing market to retail. With more debt and fewer high paying job prospects, grads have to get creative in treading a successful career path that keeps them financially stable. I believe that’s why so many are pursuing entrepreneurship. The grads who are winning today are those who are solving problems, be it for an employer or a personal entrepreneurial venture. That’s the value in human capital, right? Past generations have provided plenty of problem solvers, but I think millennials are inciting change more rapidly because of the access to information and technology. What do you think would have happened if hippies had access to the Internet and iPads?
To answer your direct questions, yes, I believe there is a clear difference between what millennials need from higher education, and I think there are new challenges that they face in achieving basic life goals.
Does higher education bring any value anymore?
Huhn: Higher education still plays a key role, but technical training and professional experience prove to be just as important when you apply given skills to a real-world task. Submitting a resume and hoping to get hired is a thing of the past.