Don’t get in the way of your child’s career success

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By Kyle Schwarm

We have all seen this course of events. Someone we know has earned a four-year degree but they are now bagging groceries or waiting on tables to make a living.

A growing number of economists, employers and academics say the post secondary education system in the U.S. is producing too many four-year graduates and parents may be a big reason why. An increasing number of us simply want our children to excel beyond our own successes. This has contributed to a glut of four-year college graduates finding that their degrees do not closely align with the jobs available for the employment market in this new economy.

In the book, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, Richard Aram and Josipa Roska point out that university graduates who did what was expected of them in higher education, are unable to find jobs because of the skills mismatch. Their research discovered that 53 percent of recent graduates earned less than $30,000 per year or had no job. At the same time, the levels of student loan debt are difficult for many of these students to handle.

According to the National Career Technical Education Foundation, U.S. workers will need different skills than workers of the past; the types of skills provided by two-year technical and community colleges. It’s not surprising that 2014 research by the Community College Research Center shows significant increases in the economic returns for two-year community and technical college students, especially those with associate degrees. The supply and demand model of economics is in play here.

In their book, Other Ways to Win, Kenneth Gray and Edwin Herr call this the, “One way to win mentality” or the thought that good jobs require four-year degrees. The problem is there are not enough jobs that require a four-year degree and university graduates are unable to take jobs away from the technical and community college graduates who have higher technical skills. Many four-year college graduates will find success in this new economy, but the creation of jobs requiring a four-year degree are not keeping pace with the number of four-year graduates being produced. Gray and Herr contend that there will be winners and losers from the pool of four-year college graduates, but more losers than winners. This is something parents must understand, especially those who push the four-year education without considering all higher education options.

There is plenty of useful research on the subject of parental influence on career and college decision-making. Here is a sampling to assist you:

  • Adolescents are often expected to make their own decisions regarding career choice, but it is rarely a personal decision because parents fail to separate from their children (Lopez & Andrews, 1987).
  • Parents often lack the expertise to assist children in the career decision-making process (Ketterson and Bluestein, 1997).
  • The over-involvement of parents often leads to career indecisiveness (Andrews, 1987).
  • Students often suffer from anxiety when they realize they are not living up to parents’ expectations in career decisions (Agaliata & Renk, 2008).
  • Family dynamics often makes it difficult for adolescents to distinguish between their own goals and their parents’ (Penick & Jepsen, 1992).
  • When parents are enamored with career development they steer adolescents into identities of work that they, the parents, perceive as acceptable (McDaniels & Hummel, 1984).
  • Parents don’t always realize or admit how much influence they are having on these decisions (Young and Friesen, 1992).

Ultimately, the decision to attend a particular college should be determined by career choice, not prestige or parents’ aspirations. Parents should provide their children with resources (such as career assessment) and encouragement, but then they should get out of the way. Children should be allowed to pursue their own passions and choose colleges and careers independent of parents. This will result in many more young adults having the opportunity to land good jobs because they have skills relevant for today’s economy.