Conventional wisdom over the last few decades has touted that higher education increases opportunity, income and one's standard of living — and the higher the degree, the better.
A generation of young professionals, dubbed Generation Y or "Millennials," are finding out the hard way that the road to prosperity can be winding and fraught with obstacles.
Elliot Blair Smith details in Bloomberg the cases of several 20 and 30-somethings whose lives haven't turned out the way they hoped:
Generation Y professionals entering the workforce are finding careers that once were gateways to high pay and upwardly mobile lives turning into detours and dead ends. Average incomes for individuals ages 25 to 34 have fallen 8 percent, double the adult population's total drop, since the recession began in December 2007. Their unemployment rate remains stuck one-half to 1 percentage point above the national figure.
Some had high-paying professional jobs until several factors combined to alter their paths, from the real estate bubble bursting to the over-arching âGreat Recession.' While most have had to take lower-paying positions, others have resorted to legal action against the schools they claim misled them about how their degrees might pay off, with architects and lawyers being some of the hardest hit:
Some of the disenchanted have taken their complaints to court. Plaintiffs' attorneys and recent law-school graduates are pushing to change what they call law schools' overstated reports of post-graduation employment numbers. The results are used in magazine rankings of the institutions and to recruit new applicants. In state-court lawsuits, the former students allege false advertising and consumer fraud.
Complaints against law schools in Illinois and Missouri have been rejected by courts, but a suit against the University of San Francisco continues.
"It's hard to look at the information the schools were putting out and say it's not misleading," says Derek Tokaz, research director of the nonprofit Law School Transparency initiative.
Whether the ultimate responsibility lies with the consumer or the education provider remains to be determined, though both parties surely have a role.
The recession and its stories of individual struggles haven't gone unnoticed, as institutions seem to have tempered rhetoric on the payoff of an education — touting non-monetary benefits more than in the past — while students are more reluctant to dive into expensive professional degree programs without exercising due diligence.
What was once an unquestioned tenet of American life is now increasingly invoking the phrase âcaveat emptor' — or âbuyer beware.'