The high cost of college tuition and the worsening penalties for student debt raise the question “Should you go to college?”. Various disciplines are experiencing declines in enrollment, even areas like law schools. Where are the good jobs and is the training worth the expense?
Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are still portrayed an in-demand career choice despite reputable studies to the contrary (Falling Behind? Boom, Bust, and the Global Race for Scientific Talent by Michael Teitelbaum). A virtual congressional hearing brought together a knowledgeable group concerned about this job market. The four experts in this hearing have well respected academic credentials on this topic and had a consistent message that increasing the number of H-1B high skill guestworker visas will harm the STEM job market.
Schools, professional societies, and corporations are busy recruiting more students to STEM. A corporation that manages student loans is partnering with a university to encourage more minority students to pursue STEM majors. The American Statistical Association decided to address falling funding for statisticians by recruiting more students through social media. They are not lobbying the National Science Foundation, nor partnering with medical researchers, nor lobbying the US Congress. Bill Gates and friends published an OpEd in the New York Times pleading to remove all limits on legal immigration for computer programmers because their companies are not able to recruit enough US programmers, even as Microsoft is in the process of laying off 18,000 employees.
The programming workforce has issues with diversity. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella recently got criticized for his comment that women should wait their turn for pay raises. Is this gender bias a “bug or a feature”? IEEE-USA has asked for more than two years how many H-1B guestworker visa hires are male and the White House claims it has too much old technology to answer the question, even though gender is already recorded for each H-1B visa application.
“Minorities Earn Tech Degrees at Twice the Rate Top Companies Hire Them”. So, why don’t they pursue tech jobs and why are tech employers allowed to mingle citizen and non-citizen diversity numbers?
Maybe the question about diversity in STEM is pushed by employers as another path to a cheap, compliant workforce in labor markets that are saturated or in decline. For example, Facebook has been determined by the US Internal Revenue Service to be legally dependent on H-1B visas, meaning that at least 15% of their workforce are guestworkers on H-1B visas. The top donors to code.org, a group that pleads for more US students to learn computer programming, helped found FWD.us, a political action committee promoting more H-1B high tech guestworkers.
Our country needs well educated people. We used to build bridges and repair roads. We built skyscrapers during the Great Depression. Students now usually need to take out loans, so the big question is whether the training is worth the cost. The local salary for a BS in computer science or MS in statistics is around $35,000-40,000, probably more in industry with less job security. Is college worth it? What is it for graduates of nice liberal arts schools? How are jobs for welders? Congress is making it easier to get student loans for STEM degrees, but repayment and finding a job are still problems.
Factories got idled in our Great Recession. Congress acts like we could just fill a bus with engineers and drive them to the factory with no rent money, no salaries, no tools, and no funding to buy raw materials to restart the factory. There is another way.
So employers want cheap labor. Colleges want full classrooms. Professors want cheap labor. And loan companies want to have more student loans because the rules on these loans have strong coercion to repay. Will these loans become collateralized just like the junk mortgages? We’re already seeing a bubble.
The issues are real and real people experience real harm, but be careful of who claims to be your friend. “If they can get you asking the wrong questions, then they don’t have to worry about the answers.”