Generation Y, Transiency, and the Undergraduate Degree

By Heather Graham


Screen shot 2021-05-30 at 11.22.01 AM.pngWhen a student graduates with a bachelor's degree, it is generally known that it equates a great deal of student debt. Rising financial costs of education and its affect on student debt have been discussed ad nauseam by Governments, the Private Sector, and the University Institution itself. What is not often considered or discussed are the social costs of the diminishing value of an undergraduate degree. Today's Generation Y is the highest educated, lowest employed generation to graduate after having accrued the highest level of student debt. What does this mean for Society?


Generation Y-er's are considered a transient generation. Not subject to inscription, homeland wars, famine, or any great depression bar the financial meltdown of 2008, Generation Y has generally been regarded as freer and less responsible than generations before. Perhaps a path paved by the parents who came of age in the '60s in the wake of Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty, this generation has been raised by the ideology of freedom from responsibility. This position is inherently derogatory and it refrains from considering the social context of this Peter Pan-labeled generation, and the pressures placed upon it by an aging society.

In the book "Who's Your City" by Richard Florida, he argues that one of the most important decisions a person can make is the city in which he/she will live. Florida argues there is a direct cause and effect relation between the socio-economic state of the city reflected in a person's happiness, and their self-reflected notion of goal achievement. However, the affects of Globalization are increasing competition amongst desirable cities, resulting in less opportunity for this over-educated generation. How can a person become responsible if they are constantly in transit from place to place in search of a fulfilling job, and a desirable city to live in?


The prospects are weak, a repercussion of cities with Universities having high rates of turnover that do not have the economy to support the rate of graduates. As a result there is a mass exodus of highly educated individuals who flee in search of work. On a national scale, it means there are hundreds of recent graduates floating from city to city, trying to find their place. Akin to the children's toy in which a magnet is used to drag metal disks across a board dropping them onto a grid underneath to form a pixilated image; it's like there are too many disks and not enough slots to drop them into.  The cost is a generation showing increased rates of depression, feelings of isolation, and abandonment; a feeling of failure amongst a generation who isn't able to achieve what was expected. What is perceived as a lack of responsibility is the result of the difficulties of finding a place to take-root and establish a life: career purgatory.


Is the system failing its students? Today's model of education was designed around factory life. A child was woken early to spend a long tedious day stationary at a desk much like a factory worker rises early to spend a long tedious day stationary at their post. However, there has been a workplace reform against the Factory work style; businesses now proclaim "Chose your own hours!", "Work from home!", "Job share!", but there's been no such reform in the education system. Whereas businesses try to attract employees by advertising a self-adaptive work-style, the education system remains a production line despite the signaling that there is a decreasing demand for what is being supplied. 


The University Institution itself should be a spearhead into the efforts of changing its system. Homogenous graduates are the results of a homogenous education. In a decade where sustainability has become a key word, these institutions need to recognize the diminishing relevancy of an undergraduate degree. What was once a market signal of intelligence and ability has become a necessity incapable of distinguishing one candidate from another. Educational reform is necessary before this transient generation transitions themselves away from Academia and into the Trades.

Image source: Flickr.

1 Comment

Agreed. I can also point out, however, that
many professors recognise and reward originality that exceeds the borders erected by necessity. Helping fledglings hatch prior to take-off is an important and arduous enough task without having to cowtail to those who would overhaul the system before having any feasible alternative to offer other than stating the obvious ad-nauseum. Cookie-cutter kids are part of the natural churn while other folks ju$t aren't made of dough.

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