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Young Adults Redefine Success Despite Economic Woes

Melanie Overton
October 23, 2012

Fork in the RoadI just read another story about an underemployed college graduate. It was depressing, true, and incomplete. Here’s the rest of the story:

  1. Young people of all educational backgrounds have been the primary losers in the United States’ economic recession and throughout the slow recovery. Anecdotes about unemployed and underemployed college graduates are true and more common for this generation than their predecessors, but the recession has made college more important both in terms of employment rates and earnings differentials.  The real story is that now is an historically difficult time to be a young adult in the U.S.; even young adults with the very real statistical advantage of a college degree are struggling in the current labor market.
  2. There has been a subtle, but important shift in who pays for college. Families of rising college students who are overwhelmed by a variety of financial stressors directly or tangentially related to the recession, caring for aging parents, and rising “sticker prices” of colleges and universities, have been shifting the burden of paying for college onto students.  As a result, student loans are increasingly common, increasingly large, and are increasingly not being repaid.  Learn how GBHEM’s Office of Loans & Scholarships is addressing this issue.
  3. Young adults are redefining success in ways that will influence their goals and behaviors throughout their lives.  I experienced this redefinition firsthand in conversation with a recent graduate of a UM-related university who is underemployed.  His career has not begun as he had planned, but my new friend has redefined career success in terms of how he relates to those around him, how well he does the work that is before him, and how carefully he stewards the resources he has been given.  Our conversation felt a bit like a sermon on justice, mercy, and walking humbly with God.

If the higher education community will continue our good and unfinished work to make college increasingly affordable, and the church will continue our efforts to help our young adults make meaning of their lives, then we might find ourselves not in crisis but in the midst of a Micah 6:8 moment.