Just how rough is the economy these days?
Well, consider this January 16, 2011 story from Iowa's KCRG News. "A man who participated with others in a scheme to fraudulently obtain federal student loans pled guilty Friday in federal court in Cedar Rapids," the lede reads.
How did the accused fraudster, one Michael Cortez, set about his dastardly deed? The KCRG News story gives the details:
At the guilty plea hearing, Cortez admitted participating in a scheme with others to fraudulently obtain federal student loan money. As part of the scheme, Cortez and others applied for federal student aid in other people’s names and arranged for a federal loan proceeds check to be directed to a post office box under his and his co-schemer’s control.
Of course, most folks feeling the current recession's pinch don't resort to such drastic means of making a buck. Rather, many try to avoid borrowing money (legitimately) altogether while still trying to gain a competitive edge in a tight job market. A January 16 2011 McClatchy story reports that certificate programs (also discussed in this DegreesOnline.net blog post) have experienced surging popularity. The McClatchy article presents Omid Khofasani, who, though he holds an engineering degree from a university in Iran, has enrolled in a nine-month pharmacy program with a view to eventually pivoting out of his current job of carpet salesman and into work as a pharmacist -- and a middle-class income.
As Khofosani exemplifies, certificate programs may offer a better return on investment than traditional graduate programs. Skyrocketing tuition and fees at most U.S. universities has put many middle-class aspirants in a nasty bind, because, though employers continue to place a premium on applicants' having postsecondary education, postsecondary education now comes at an ever more exorbitant premium.
Indeed, the return on investment for certification program frequently beats even the return on four-year bachelor's degrees. The McClatchy article quotes Florida community college chancellor Willis Holcombe, who states that "'[t]he recession has brought in clear focus the value of a career versus a job.'"
Numbers coming from Holcombe's home state of Florida lend force to the truth of his words. "A new report based on the state's employment data shows that students who earn certificates or associate of science degrees make more money in their first year out of college than four-year graduates of Florida's university system," the article reports.
This development isn't limited to Florida, a similar trend is emerging across the entire United States. "Nationally, 27 percent of people with licenses and certificates also earn more than the average bachelor's degree recipient," the article continues.
[A]t least half of all anticipated job opportunities in the next seven years will be open to "middle-skill" workers like pharmacy technicians -- what Khofasani will be after he passes a certification exam. Training for such jobs is offered at both community colleges and for-profit career and trade schools.
Middle-skills jobs require more than a high school diploma but less than a college degree, along with significant education and training -- and they make up roughly half of all U.S. jobs, according to the Urban Institute, a nonprofit policy research organization based in Washington, D.C.
Certification for these middle-skills jobs would certainly seem to point the way toward a middle-class standard of living and the relative financial security that goes with it. People like Khofasani astutely recognize that all is not well in the ivory tower, and have elected not to assume unnecessary student loan debt, particularly when the reward for doing so grows increasingly dubious.
An editorial in the January 15, 2011 edition of The Kansas City Star paints a grim portrait of what today's debt strapped college grads face in terms of future prospects. "Students are told their lifelong earning potential hinges on getting a college degree," the editorial states.
But state support for public universities has tanked, as have endowments at private colleges. Meanwhile, the average cost of tuition and fees has increased by 466 percent over the last 25 years, more than four times the rate of inflation.
For most families, money to finance college isn’t readily available. But student aid is, especially federally backed loans. The average college senior in 2009 graduated $24,000 in debt -- and facing the bleakest job market in more than a decade.
Experts warn that higher education is the next bubble about to burst. More than $800 billion in public and private student loan debt is outstanding, but only 40 percent is actively being repaid.
Graduates who default on federally backed loans eventually will find their paychecks garnisheed. Some will spend entire lifetimes paying for their post-high-school education.
Tuition hikes. Unpayable debt. Bleak job prospects. Wage garnishment. The Kansas City Star editorial predicts nothing less than higher-ed Armageddon, as millions of the present generation are tossed into a tophet of debt slavery, while deliverance for the heedful few lies a close as their local community college.