The day of turning a college degree into a ready job and high pay is over. That was then.
The new economy is different now, and many graduate schools are taking note.
For example, The New York Times reported:
“On a spring afternoon at Michigan State University, 15 law students are presenting start-up proposals to a panel of legal scholars and entrepreneurs and an audience of fellow students. The end-of-the semester event is one part seminar and one part ‘Shark Tank’ reality show.
“The companies the students are describing would be very different from the mega-firms that many law students have traditionally aspired to work for, and to grow wealthy from. Instead, these young people are proposing businesses more nimble and offbeat: small, quick mammals [entrepreneurial businesses] scrambling underfoot in the land of dinosaurs [oldstyle mega-businesses].
Many schools are increasingly emphasizing entrepreneurialism in a new economy where the traditionally educated law school graduate faces a dearth of jobs.
As the same New York Times article noted, “With the marketplace shifting, schools have increasingly come under fire for being out of touch.”
Professionals in the Basement?
A surprisingly high number of law school and other professional school graduates are moving back home to live with parents, and those who do get jobs are finding the work stifling and unrewarding in an environment with a glut of professionals holding degrees.
Those who don’t like the cutthroat and grinding work are easily replaced.
In fact, a Forbes study recently noted that being an associate attorney is the least happy job in the nation.
It has relatively high pay compared to most entry-level career paths, but the hours are extreme and the other rewards are minimal.
With the glut of attorneys in the market, a large number of law school grads are ending up as paralegals anyway — which seldom helps them to pay off their huge student loans.
Medical careers are nearly as bad for most young people—at least for the first eight to twelve years.
A recent poll of college graduates showed:
“People who take out significant college loans score worse on quality-of-life measures, a trend that persists into middle age…Even 24 years after graduation, students who borrowed more than $25,000 are less likely to enjoy work and are less financially and physically fit than their counterparts who graduated without debt.”
For more recent college grads, the discrepancy is even more pronounced:
“About 70% of college grads have debt, and those with graduate or professional schooling have even more debt on average than those with a four-year degree.”
“Catherine L. Carpenter, vice dean of Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles, tracks curriculum across the country. She said schools are trying to teach their students to run their own firms, to look for entrepreneurial opportunities by finding ‘gaps in the law or gaps in the delivery of services,’ and to gain specialized knowledge that can help them counsel entrepreneurs.”
A Return to Apprenticeship
Some of the schools themselves are turning more entrepreneurial as well. The Times reported:
“All law schools, including the elites, are increasing skills training by adding clinics and externships…The University of Virginia will allow students to earn a semester of credit while working full time for nonprofit or government employers anywhere in the world.”
This kind of non-traditional learning harks back to the time when most attorneys learned by apprenticing with practicing lawyers — usually with no formal law school at all.
A few law schools are also implementing innovative ways to help their graduates get jobs, or work in firms set up specifically for this purpose by the law schools.
For example, Arizona State University set up a special nonprofit law firm so that some of its graduates would have a place to work and learn to practice law.
“[There is] a crisis looming over the legal profession after decades of relentless growth…It is evident in the sharp drop in law school applications…”
“Post-graduate training programs appear to be the way of the future for many of the nation’s 200 law schools. The law dean of Rutgers University just announced plans for a nonprofit law firm for some of his graduates.”
Entrepreneurship and Life
Other innovations are trying to deal with the crisis.
“At Indiana University’s law school, Prof. William D. Henderson has been advocating a shake-up in legal education whose time may have come. ‘You have got to be in a lot of pain’ before a school will change something as tradition-bound as legal training, he said, but pain is everywhere at the moment, and ‘that’s kind of our opening.’”
“‘This is the worst time in the history of legal education to go to law school,’ said Patrick Ellis, a recent graduate [of Michigan State University]. ‘I am not top of my class, not at a top-10 law school, but I’m confident I’m going to have a meaningful career because of this [entrepreneurial studies] program.’”
Entrepreneurialism is injecting life into many sectors of the economy. In fact, it always has. Without entrepreneurship, free economies cannot flourish.
But when the economy is as sluggish as the new market today, entrepreneurs are the main hope.
Note that it’s not just law school grads who are facing a tough economy. Don Peck wrote in The Atlantic:
“The Great Recession may be over, but this era of high joblessness is probably just beginning. Before it ends, it will likely change the life course and character of a generation of young adults…The economy now sits in a hole 10 million jobs deep…[and] we need to produce roughly 1.5 million jobs a year — about 125,000 a month — just to keep from sinking deeper.
“Even if the economy were to immediately begin producing 600,000 jobs a month — more than double the pace of the mid-to-late 1990s, when job growth was strong — it would take roughly two years to dig ourselves out of the hole we’re in…But the U.S. hasn’t seen that pace of sustained employment growth in more than 30 years…”
In addition, to pay for college, many more students are staying home and learning in local schools or talking courses online. (See, for example, Tamar Lewin, “Colleges Adapt Online Courses to Ease Burden, The New York Times, April 29, 2013.)
And over half of college students who go away to earn their degrees have moved back home after graduation in recent years—they aren’t finding jobs, and home is their only option in many cases. (Harper’s Index, Harpers, August 2011).
Deep Holes Around the World
In fact, this problem is prevalent in Europe as well as the United States.
As one report noted:
“By the time the parents of Serena Violano were in their early 30s, they had solid jobs, their own home and two small daughters. Today, Serena, a 31-year-old law graduate, is still sharing her teenage bedroom with her older sister in the small town of Mercogliano, near Naples.”
With few jobs available in her field, she “spends her days studying for the exam to qualify as a notary in the hopes of scoring a stable job.”
The reason the European economies are struggling is the same as the American challenge — with one difference: the media is more open in saying what is really causing the problems in Europe.
“[the young European’s] predicament is exposing a painful truth: The towering cost of labor protections that have provided a comfortable life for Europe’s baby boomers is now keeping their children from breaking in [to economic opportunity].”
Dead or Alive
In the United States, such protections include Social Security, Health Care laws, Government Pensions, other entitlements, and the debt necessary to maintain these programs — along with the high levels of regulation that hamper entrepreneurial ventures.
But why are people turning to graduate school to learn entrepreneurship, when the best entrepreneurs tend to learn their craft by application in the real market?
It appears to be a matter of trying to avoid risk — of attempting to do what works in the new economy (entrepreneurship) while hedging one’s bets by still doing what used to work in the old economy (college degrees).
As one interesting article captured this theme: “College is Dead. Long Live College!”
Both “college is dead” and “long live college” can’t technically be true at the same time, but today’s students and their parents aren’t sure which to believe.
Still, the best road to entrepreneurship is actually engaging in entrepreneurialism.
This is a scary reality for a generation that was raised to believe that school was basically the only route to career success.
Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in Democracy in America that as go the attorneys, so goes the United States. Today the cutting-edge trend in legal training is a huge influx of entrepreneurialism.
Ultimately, as another report put it:
“It used to be that college was the ticket to the top. Now graduates are starting from the bottom—buried by student-loan debt that has skyrocketed to a collective $1.2 trillion” in the U.S.
Today’s college students and graduates are coming to be known less as the Millennial Generation and more as “Generation Debt.”
This doesn’t mean that higher education is dead. It means that “hire education” is going to be increasingly judged by how well it works — meaning how effectively its users succeed as entrepreneurs.
As a result, a lot of “higher education” innovation and non-traditional types of learning — many of them informal, self-directed and hand-on-building-a-business—are beginning to flourish.
Those who successfully engage in entrepreneurship (in law and nearly every other sector of the economy) are going to be the successes of the future.
Entrepreneurship is the new Ivy League.
Oliver DeMille is the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling co-author of LeaderShift: A Call for Americans to Finally Stand Up and Lead, the co-founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of TJEd.
Among many other works, he is the author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, The Coming Aristocracy, and FreedomShift: 3 Choices to Reclaim America’s Destiny.
Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.