Too many high achievers?

Nearly half the college graduates in Korea can't find jobs that use their degree.

There's a big push to promote college education among young people in the U.S. But is there such a thing as too many college graduates?

The evidence from South Korea is that there can be. The Samsung Economic Research Institute in Seoul figures about 42% of recent college graduates are "overeducated," apparently meaning they don't use their college degree. "Had about 42% of the graduates bypassed college and started working immediately after high school, GDP growth would have been as much as 1.01 percentage points higher," the Institute says.

It is common practice for Koreans to engage tutors for their kids and even to go into debt so their offspring can attend better schools. A recent article in Bloomberg Businessweek  revealed that private consumption in Korea fell recently and said that spending on schools and tutoring was one of the reasons. The Businessweek article also seems to indicate that there is a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses effect in Korea with regard to schooling. So Korean parents are unlikely to take their feet off the gas pedal when it comes to more schooling for their kids, the end result being, apparently, even more college-educated Koreans with dim prospects.


Discuss this Blog Entry 12

on Oct 17, 2013

Education is not high achievement. Many well educated people achieve nothing more than a steady paycheck.

The problem I see is that all these engineers are turned out with no idea how to do anything but what they're told. There is no grounding in business, management, stuff that would let them take the option of starting and running their own innovation based business for themself. They are stamped-out interchangeable tools, good for nothing but absorbing the real knowledge needed for the job (if).

And so they end up doing what some business guy thinks will make money, not advancing the art except as the business that houses them, chooses to support.

I think the engineering schools should dump a few humanities electives (because, face it, they don't work - engineers still write and spell badly, and the sole writing class may as well be technical writing) and replace them with things that make graduates capable of prospering -without- a big-company pigeon hole to fall into.

Dudley M Jones (not verified)
on Oct 17, 2013

No history?

Anonymous (not verified)
on Oct 17, 2013

I believe the article is focused on "figures about 42% of recent college graduates are "overeducated," but is this representative of Korean Engineers? And in this respect your comment of "I think the engineering schools should dump a few humanities electives (because, face it, they don't work - engineers still write and spell badly, and the sole writing class may as well be technical writing) and replace them with things that make graduates capable of prospering -without- a big-company pigeon hole to fall into." is completely off-base.

I contend that properly educated engineers should have the skills to write a project proposal including the charts and graphs of break-even and ROI for each of the projects they are involved/engaged with. In fact, I believe it would be beneficial to request engineers to take marketing classes and marketing folks to take product design courses, at least there would be an appreciation for what the other does.

And what is the criterion that a banker needs to be able to loan money to a small business that is different than that of a large firm? And how should my capital expenditure be broken up to maximize the profit to the company?

These are all questions that experienced engineers have to deal with every day and the sooner an entry level associate can collect information and communicate clearly and eloquently the intent and the expected results, the better off society will be as a whole.

To say that "engineers" write and spell badly is accepting mediocrity as the standard and I for one ask "Where did you get you degree?"

Joe Engineer (not verified)
on Oct 17, 2013

Engineers should have coop experience along with their education to give them practical experience. A few US universities offer this coop program experience where it takes 5 years to complete a BS degree, University of Cincinnati has had their coop engineering program for over 100 years and those that graduate have a distinct advantage of having actual experience besides a diploma. This gives engineering students exposure to what a career in engineering would be like and getting paid for the time spent which is valuable in deciding if that is what they really want to do for a lifelong career.

Jonathan (not verified)
on Oct 17, 2013

We are at a time when the problems society faces more are not about the production of wealth but it's distribution. It takes only a few percent of the population to feed the rest and essentially we already have enough housing (especially in the U.S or a developed country like S. Korea) to shelter everyone. So again, it only takes a few percent of people to create the extra housing needed as the population grows and maintain what exists. With this fundamental, what do you do with all the rest of the people?

There is obviously something broken because even in these developed countries many cannot even meet these simple basic needs. Poor people could work to grow their own food but they are denied access to land and ability to do so.

It easy to think technology would benefit the poorer among us but it doesn't. As automated cars come online, taxi drivers will no longer be needed. Those jobs will not be replaced. However the people that own that technology will grow richer while more people are out of luck.

This is crux of the issue on why education can't really solve these issues. If we train more engineers, in a way, they put more people out of living wage jobs faster because we have no way in our society to share the benefit of new technology with the people who are displaced.

Education can't cure this. Also in part because most taxi drivers won't be able to be trained to have those higher level skills that are more in demand. How are you going to train a taxi driver to be an engineer or a computer scientist? If they had that aptitude and ambition, wouldn't they already have pursued that?

The other just basic failing is that most of our current education system is set up to first promote more education regardless of whether this is education useful outside of the university. In fact, if education is not very useful then it's great for the business of education because they can then sell you even more education. The second large issue with most education is that almost none of it promotes the understanding that an individual can create their own capital by starting their own business or by making their own products. If you go to the forums of start-up incubator Y Combinator, it's riddled with posts about how worthless most education is in starting your own technology company and frankly most of it is true. As person who started my own tech business, I found their forums to be infinitely more helpful in my business than anything I got out of school. Nothing is more educational about running a business than actually just trying to do it yourself. No school will ever teach that however.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Oct 17, 2013

If the parents spend money on tutors rather than, say, appliances and clothes, wouldn't that mean the tutors had the money to spend on those things? The problem isn't the tutors, but the fact they create nothing of lasting and increasing value. It's just a transfer-of-money operation.

Granted, here in the US we probably educate too many people at the college level in subjects such as English, anthropology, sports studies, and so on. High schools and parents should help kids set realistic expectations and direct some to careers that still need specialized skills and creativity, but not a 4-year college degree. If one of my kids said they wanted to major in paleontology, I'd say, "Fine, but on your own money. Become an electrician (for example), and find fossils as a hobby."

Anonymous (not verified)
on Oct 18, 2013

Right on the mark, I am active in the practice of Engineering and a business owner. I interview perspective engineers all the time. In every group there are usually 2 or 3 who never should have been sent to collage or encouraged / forced to study engineering. The college grads are well educated at test taking, but have issues with motivation, accountability, perseverance through adversity, and creativity.

When my son was considering a career one of his considerations was 'can I make a living at it'. As well as 'do I like doing it'. He currently works as a draftsman while studying Forensic IT. Meanwhile my niece of the same age, is 'Medieval Art History' major after receiving her masters in 'Do you want fries with that' is going back to law school so she can get a job, still on her parents dime. A classic case.

I'm thinkin

P Hunter (not verified)
on Oct 18, 2013

This article and subsequent comments are all very good at identifying problems with the way society treats the idea of scholasticism; the study in Korea may as well be in the US given we have the same problem.

In the US we have a fetishistic focus on scholasticism and "knowledge" as it relates to educating people. Unfortunately nobody seems to notice the complete disconnect between the knowledge people gain in our education system and the simple supply-demand functionality of the working market. I know normal guys (not geniuses) who studied computer science while I was doing ME in school, and they are making absolute bank right now. Why? There is a lot of demand for people with the skill, and not as many people with the skill versus ME. During the college enrollment process, however, there is absolutely zero distinction between ME and CS; the tuition is the same, the graduation rate is equivalent, the loan financing is equally available. At my alma mater, CS and History are completely indistinguishable at enrollment from those perspectives; the tuition is the same, and equally finance-able. The labor stats, however, would indicate CS as a much more valuable degree than History; the fact that these simple market "messages" never make it to prospective students is a problem created by public policy in the educational realm and we witness its effects at all levels of education. If I had $1 million to invest, and a high-school graduate asked to borrow $50k for him/her to pursue history, I would not make that loan, or I would charge a criminal interest rate if I felt so inclined because there are a tremendous number of reasons for me to believe that the chance of default on that money is very high. I would loan that money to someone pursuing CS, however.

The college market is distorted by well-meaning policy that makes student loan default impossible, makes the federal government the default student loan backer (thanks Obamacare), etc. all in an effort to democratize education. In reality, we observe that the democratization of scholasticism is overshadowed by an accompanying educational cost explosion, crippling debt and career dissatisfaction. We will never deal with our problem of "overeducation" until we allow simple market functionality into the realm of educational finance.

The Korean problem looks simpler to me because it's not clear that the bulk of the problem is finance or policy; the bulk of the problem is cultural. Many Asian people I've known, including a handful of Koreans, have parents that are absolutely fixated on achievement in higher education regardless what their kids or anyone else say; importantly, however, usually (at least among people I know personally; this isn't a scientific statement but the article seem to suggest the same) the parents are the ones financing that operation. Looks like the market is telling them their money is better spent elsewhere, and it's up to them to pay attention.

Citizen A (not verified)
on Oct 20, 2013

When I went away to engineering school in the late 50’s everybody (that wanted to) was working. A college education was not a universal expectation, but what everyone did expect was to find work that offered responsibilities and rewards consistent with their skill set and work ethic. The brilliant and hard working knew they’d find their way to the top (degree or not). Even the dullards found steady work suitable for their capabilities.
Global competition has changed that picture almost beyond recognition. The dullards lost out first. Their jobs are gone, and aren’t coming back. The brilliant and hard working are still OK, ‘tho fewer and fewer work in manufacturing. The ones currently in transition – who don’t seem to grasp what has happened to the country – are the people in the middle. These are the average guys, whose parents or grandparents were the reliable plodders that made up the middle class.
Plodding no longer supports a middle class lifestyle. A bachelor’s degree is one of the most oversold, under performing goals that these unfortunates could choose to waste their time and money on. If you’re average there’s no room for you at the top. Someone needs to start telling them the truth.
I work in the metalforming industry. Born before Pearl Harbor, I still work 50 hour weeks. And, like some of you, I’m often disappointed by the young engineers. But what disappoints me even more is the blue collar situation. All of our toolmakers have gray hair. There are no young ones. The other technical trades are similarly troubled. Everyone wants to be an executive now.
An add in the local paper produces lots of applicants for engineering jobs. But a precision toolmaker search is a nation-wide effort – and often fails to produce a single qualified individual. That’s a symptom of something wrong with education.
To get everybody working again what we need are more trade schools. And we need to revive the apprentice system. Certificates have begun to carry weight in IT. Perhaps some industrial/professional/medical/construction/welding organizations can create meaningful certificate programs for their respective trade specialties.
But step one is to stop reinforcing unrealistic expectations. The truth is a good place to start. In light of labor competition from 3rd world countries, if American kids are only average, they’ll be poorer than their parents were, and a lot poorer than their grandparents. The top 20% is still reserved for the top 20%. Like it always was.

Clyde (not verified)
on Oct 22, 2013

I couldn't agree more.
My son is a mason (bricklayer, not masonic) and cannot find young people woh are willing to atake on the hard, physical work to learn the trade. On the ocasion when he hires someone they do not stick it out. Ther is no place for anyone to learn the trade except OJT. The same goes for framers, carpenters, roofers

Ducatista (not verified)
on Oct 21, 2013

I don't think that the educational intitutions are any more at fault than the HR departments at our larger companies.

I left engineering school after 2 years, during which I learned very little that was applicable to mechanical engineering.

After leaving college, I worked my way up from draftsman to Chief Engineer within 5 years at my first job. I then moved on to various companies, as a tool designer, machine design, a tool engineer at various aerospace companies, to my current position as a Senior Staff Manufacturing Engineer at one of the largest aerospace and defence companies.

And yet, I cannot even get an interview for similar or lower "engineering" positions at most companies, because of my lack of a formal degree. Apparently, a 4 years degree and no experiece trumps 40 years of relavent exerience, but no degree.

So it seems to me that industry is a much responibly for fostering our degree mill educational system as anyone.

slobodon milosvic (not verified)
on Nov 4, 2013

Do not let education get in the way of your job training.
The purpose of an education is to bring a society of people up to speed on broad concepts of the human condition, including history, world religions, economic theories, biology, chemistry, etc. Society as a whole benefits from an aware, educated well rounded populace.
An engineering education has drifted so far from this and turned into nothing but advanced Technical school that the kids can't think for themselves, can only solve problems drawing from one tool in their tool box. They are ill equipped to survive without a supportive infrastructure of other specialized tech types and greedy business strategists. Entrepreneurial and good old creative thinking are left up to the ill equipped business types leading us down dead end money driven sociopath corporate dreams. I agree with the comment "the art is lost".
We are training a legion of drones to fuel the corporate money machine.
Not only that, there social security will be gone and there are no pensions.

Please or Register to post comments.

Blog Archive
Connect With Us

Sponsored Introduction Continue on to (or wait seconds) ×