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Posted at 04:54 PM ET, 05/20/2011

What the class of 2011 didn’t learn

College class of 2011, I hear that you are graduating. This probably means that you are in need of someone to offer you unsolicited advice.

Well, you’re in luck. As a recent graduate myself, I am positively overflowing with knowledge. At least, I think that it is knowledge, because I got a little of it on some plants, and they died. I hear that trace amounts of knowledge can be dangerous! So this will be a valedictory address where the word “valedictory” is from the Latin for “Are you kidding me, I don’t know Latin, the class was at 9 a.m., and that conflicted with my college drinking schedule.”

I was supposed to have some words of wisdom. I was supposed to tell you that college was worth it. I was supposed to tell you to Follow Your Dreams and Listen To What Life Is Telling You.

But it is pretty clear what Life is telling you. Life is saying, “Hey, you don’t have a job.” It is saying, “Karl, you’d better move back into your parents’ basement.”

The numbers are grim. Only 53 percent of 2006 to 2010 graduates are employed, and that number might drop if my editor doesn’t like the joke I made in that last paragraph. If you are now graduating from college, the odds are higher that your parents will provide “housing support” than that you expect to fare better in life than they did.

So, congrats! You know how people say that college is the best time of your life and “seriously, college is the best time of your life” and “of course I live in this dorm and I definitely wasn’t just lurking here hoping to follow someone into the building so I could inhale one last whiff of collegiate life” and “Hey, security guard, stop removing me from the premises”? Well, those people really mean those things.

So, what have you been doing for the past four years?

You may have been marching around the campus chanting, “No means yes, yes means anal!” like the members of the recently suspended Delta Kappa Epsilon frat at Yale.

You may have been making an elaborate PowerPoint of all the men you’d had carnal relations with, as did Karen Owen of Duke University.

But you definitely weren’t studying.

Trust me. I was in your shoes last year, if you rented that specific pair of graduation shoes. And there’s research to back me up. A study found that in 2003, college students put in only 14 hours of work per week — compared to 24 hours in 1961.

But hey, we were entitled to it! After working from kindergarten onward pretending to be baby Einsteins, we needed some sort of reprieve! That was why, in college, class did not start before noon, and you were allowed to take courses with names like “Who Is Sexier: Beowulf or the Element Carbon?” and “Let’s Speculate About Kinky Sexual Things Friedrich Engels Might Have Enjoyed.”

So it’s almost a relief that the job market is so terrible for recent graduates. This enables us to do what we do best: not work, ever. That’s what college was about, after all. Not working.

In a survey of students included in the book “Academically Adrift” by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, only 25 percent reported being required to read more than 40 pages a week or write more than 20 pages over the course of a semester. An additional 25 percent found themselves in courses that required more reading — but no additional writing. When I see statistics like this, I begin weeping and laughing simultaneously until it frightens the man who shares my cubicle. Forty pages a week? Just wait until you’re in the workforce!

Oh, I’m sorry. You won’t be.

It couldn’t possibly be correlation. After all, you are all getting A’s.

It couldn’t be that college adds no value. Sure, 36 percent of students failed to show any meaningful improvement in complex reading, writing and critical thinking skills on the Collegiate Learning Assessment tests at the end of four years. But that wasn’t because they were never required to read, write or think critically, or, well, work at all. Unless they were engineers. And engineers have jobs.

The one sad fact about studying is that it seems to give you the skills that employers actually want: critical thinking, reading and, most of all, writing. There were correlations between improvement on the CLAT and major — Humanities majors scored 69 points higher than business majors, for instance — but the difference dwindled once the researchers took into account the reading and writing requirements of the students’ courses.

Unfortunately, it seems that you needed to work.

I am sorry that no one got this message to you sooner.

I tried to tell you in February, but you were too busy marching around the campus yelling “No means yes!” to hear me.

On the bright side, you now have no choice but to go to grad school. All grad school requires is that you spend up to eight years putting off a big project. You can do that! That’s the only skill everyone acquires during college.

Still, that feels almost like giving up.

When you pictured yourself in 10 years, you didn’t picture this. Your framed degree looks forlorn in your parents’ basement. If you have a job at all, it’s in a weird industry like cab-driving or Not Working In A Field Related To Your Major. It’s, frankly, depressing.

T. H. White wrote, “The only cure for sadness is to learn something.”

Too bad that option’s clearly out.

By  |  04:54 PM ET, 05/20/2011

Tags:  college, oops, kids these days

 
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