We have been told that the crisis of university can be solved—by putting pressure on the Regents, by asserting student and worker power at the state level, etc. But what about the crisis of the university graduate? The statistics are bleak. In the US, the unemployment rate for 16-to-24 year-olds has climbed to more than 18 percent. Studies suggest that people who experience periods of youthful joblessness tend to get stuck in jobs that are “beneath their capabilities.” They come to be seen by employers as “damaged goods.”
We are becoming a generation of damaged goods. Perhaps we should have skipped college altogether and gone straight to the job market. It is now clear that, by the time new jobs arrive, there will be waves upon waves of graduates competing for them. According to the Wall Street Journal, the economy will not generate any “new jobs”—that is, enough to bring the unemployment rate back down to its pre-crisis level—until December 2016. With more people competing for fewer openings, wages will fall. Business Week reports that, for each percentage-point rise in the unemployment rate—and unemployment has already risen five points since the end of 2007—those who graduated during a recession earned 6 to 7 percent less in their first year of employment, with effects lasting over a decade.
We print these statistics not merely to notify you of our unhappy futures. On the contrary, this concerns us here and now. If we can all expect below-average wages over the next decade, shouldn’t we also expect to pay less for our university degrees? The standard relationship between tuition and wages has clearly broken down. The Regents assume we can pay more and more for our educations—and therefore take out bigger loans—because we will be able to repay our debts with higher lifetime earnings. But when we get out of school, we will find that the job opportunities have already evaporated, that we are earning less than those who graduated before us. So why does tuition continue to rise, when our future earning expectations are falling? How can we mortgage futures that no longer exist?
This is not simply a student issue, since it will outlast our financial aid packages, our scholarships, and whatever help our parents give us. Nor is it even a national issue, since global youth—from Spain and France to Iran and China—are facing the same employment gap. This is a matter of life: how we will continue living hinges on what we do about it now. When they tell us what it will take to “save the university,” we should ask, what will it take to save us? We know only this: tactics of disruption will have to spread, from students to young workers—and the young unemployed. As we are beginning to see at the university, it is only through collective acts of disruption that we constitute a force so severe we cannot not be ignored.