Over-educated, under-employed: Was college worth it?

By Jillian Evans (b. 1983)

As I sit in the office of the temporary staffing agency taking tests on Microsoft Word and typing accuracy, I can’t help but wonder: is this what my $30,000 a year college education has bought me? After almost four years of work experience, I have suddenly found myself living with my parents and vying with hundreds of other applicants for an $11 an hour clerical job answering phones.

Don’t get me wrong; I know I’m lucky to not have anyone to support or a house whose mortgage outweighs its value. I’m even lucky to have parents that will let me stay with them while I find another full-time job. All the same, I’m not exactly thrilled with my current life situation.

In the words of Tony award-winning Avenue Q lyricist Jeff Marks,
4 years of college 
And plenty of knowledge
Have earned me this useless degree.
I have not one, but two Bachelor’s degrees that are collecting dust in my basement. I understand and support a college education for all those who want it; I have spent the last 3 years of my life teaching middle school students that a college education is the sole route to a bright future. If they wanted to be hairdressers or auto mechanics, I still encouraged them to spend the time and money to get a degree in entrepreneurship so they could own their own shops. Now I wonder: did I mislead them? While white collar jobs are declining in this economy, many blue collar jobs are holding steady or even increasing. So, is college really worth the investment? John Stossel and the investigative reporters at ABC’s 20/20 think it may not be. Watch the YouTube version of the segment here:

Of course, there is another side. My bachelor’s and post-college experience have given me the opportunity to accept a two month temporary job that will pay $35 an hour, which would certainly not have been available to me without my degree. But come May, I will most likely be back at the temp agency, answering phones and managing databases until the economy improves.

Jillian Evans is unemployed, but not friendless.


  1. I think the underlying issue in the 'was college worth it' debate, and many of the points you bring up, is the exorbitant cost of getting a college education in this country. That the majority of us have to go into debt lasting the majority of our adult lives, and that tuition costs keep rising and government funding is ever on the decrease is making college a less available option for many kids, and this saddens me.
    My take on college when I was a student was always that it wasn't "job training", per se. I thought of it as learning to learn, honing my critical thinking skills, and broadening my world view--all relevant to becoming a productive member of society. While I don't regret it at all, at the end of the day, i think that the price tag even at my state-funded university was a little steep for what I got in return; now, I can't even imagine what they are paying, and would be hesitant to study at a university now just to better myself and my world view. I would be more apt to look into job training.

    What did I study, you might be asking? Spanish. So no, definitely was not job training. And no, I don't work in my field either.

    The fact that our government invests more in the military, war, and bailing out Fanny and Freddy and all the others than it does in the education of our youth, and continuing education of our adult citizens, frightens and disgusts me. The future of education looks less bright every year, and I wonder just how bad it will have to get before the tide turns, and higher education is at least half--if not wholly--subsidized by tax dollars.

  2. This video was spot on. Thank you for sharing it. I graduated from college with a 3.8 and from grad school with a 4.0, and I still cannot find a job. All that my BA qualified me to do was to get a temp job that paid $10/hr (where I live, that's actually a good hourly wage). That was great while it lasted, but now I am sleeping on a friend's couch. College is a scam. Most of my female classmates went to community college to become medical assistants, and their jobs are more secure than anything I'll ever hope to attain. They have homes and families. I wish that, instead of scoffing at them, I'd ignored my family's wishes and gone to community college. A college degree is no guarantee that you'll find work. It's merely a "hunting license," and not even a very useful one at that.

  3. Wow. This article (and the video) really hit close to home for me. For those who care to know, I graduated from Duke University in 2006 with a B.S. (now I know why it's called that) in Biology, with a Chemistry minor. I've got about 3 years of full-time genetics/biochemistry research experience, along with 3 published articles in prestigious biochem journals. Now I'm broke and unemployed and haven't been able to find a job in months.

    I was lucky enough not to be left with a pile of debt, but I did have over $75K in a custodial account, which no longer exists because I used every penny to pay for my "elite" private-school education.

    Sadly, I am by no means a unique case - I have several friends from Duke who are also unemployed and nearly penniless. Some have developed psychological disorders from constant anxiety... some have turned to hard drugs for relief.

    I know several people at other "prestigious" institutions as well who have similar stories. One friend of mine is getting a Masters at Yale, but he is considering transferring because, as he put it, "It's a remarkably average experience. But it's SO expensive."

    I have another friend at Brown who has been disappointed with her experience as well. She said the campus is oppressively political (far-left), and that no one takes their studies seriously. She was going to go abroad for a semester, but since I told her of my situation, she's decided to do a triple major instead, in hopes that she can secure a job post-graduation.

    I also have several acquaintances who are making excellent money - $20-40 an hour - with a HS diploma and perhaps an Associate's degree is a practical trade - welding, automotive repair, etc.

    Personally, I'm preparing to do the same thing - I'm getting my CDL in a couple of months, after which I'm going to drive for maybe a year, and then return to the local community college and get an Associates degree in programming and maybe engine repair.

    I'm going to cut this short, since I'm rambling in the comment box, but I have to say that I am extremely disappointed in my Duke degree, and I would give my diploma back any day if I could just recover the time and effort and money that I wasted on my degree.

    If anyone wishes to discuss this further, feel free to contact me at clayton.thomas@alumni.duke.edu.

  4. FYI: A quick update on the anonymous author of this post - - the writer was recently accepted to over half of the gradute school programs she applied to, but defferedas he/she (after several mor months of thankless gruntwork) is now gainfully employed in a management position. There is hope :)

  5. Oh Sounds Great. I completed My Computer Science 4 years Degree in 2008 and now employed as a Technical Recruiter Trainee for $8/hr Full Time. Where as my seniors who completed in 2007 are earning $25-35/hr in software developer. Even after 1 year and 3 months of working for this same company and got so many winning deals still my wage is $8/hr. Who i must blame??