Live and Learn

The Lost Graduation by David Vranicar: review

When David Vranicar sent me an email requesting I review his new book, The Lost Graduation, it didn’t take a lot of hair pulling. You see, David is a 2008 college graduate from Regis University in Denver. I am a 2008 graduate from the University of Oregon. David was writing about the life of young graduates in the wake of the Great Recession, and the resulting new normal. Being a shared experience, this topic peaked my interest immediately.

As David’s tag line indicates, college graduates are stepping off campus and into a crisis. Four years after the 2008 class graduated, it appears that 8+ percent unemployment and an underemployment rate in the high teens may just be the new normal. That is unless robust growth finally spawns out of the current environment. Students carry loads of debt from their college education (debt that can’t even be discharged in bankruptcy) and a tall task to find a job that will support them of any kind, let alone in their desired field.

None of this is a newsflash. Kids have retreated back to their parents’ house after college, earning them the dignified title of the boomerang generation. Well, at least more dignified than the lost generation.

Before Vranicar came along, the Great Recession was a story that hadn’t yet been told by our generation. That, above all else, is why I agreed to read the book and consider publishing a review. People need to hear our perspective. Particularly, as David makes a compelling case for, because we are the ones who were adversely affected by it the most. And, I might add, had the least to do with causing it.

Not only have our job prospects been horrifying, data shows that graduates who get hired in recessionary times make considerably less as the unemployment rate rises. As Vranicar explains:

Lisa Kahn, an economist at Yale, researched the impact that recessionary graduation has on long-term earnings. Her analysis – looking at those who graduated between 1979 and 1989 – found that for every percentage-point increase in the national unemployment rate, starting income for new graduates falls by as much as 7 percent. The unluckiest of that ’79 to ’89 cohort, those who graduated in the heart of the early-1980s recession, made about 25 percent less in their first year than those who “stepped into boom times.”

The average American worker earns 70 percent of their total pay increases during their first decade in the workforce. So in other words, many recent graduates will not be able to catch up to their older, higher paid colleagues. Young graduates also happened to pay substantially more for that piece of paper than their counterparts. And this is all if they have a job to begin with.

Swift Economics has called out the traditional college paradigm many times before. I’ve asked the question, is college still worth it? Andrew has addressed the assertion that college degrees are worth one million dollars (a handy thing to tell a 16-year-old) in the Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics series. We’ve covered the college education inflation rate, how those degrees are working out for people in the new normal, student loan defaults and the education bubble, and that it may be time to stress to children that they better study something in school that has specific job training involved; if you want to pay off your debt anyway. Vranicar has gone a step further, though. He has offered up the agonizing personal details in a memoir at the age of 24. A feat all that more impressive as few young Westerners have the life experience to pen a worthy read at this point in their life.

Vranicar was a philosophy major focused on becoming a sports journalist. He was the sports editor of the Regis University Highlander and an intern for The Colorado Daily in Boulder. He won several awards for his pieces in high school and college. He also went above and beyond networking in the industry. Unfortunately for him, the bottom fell out of journalism upon his graduation, even more so than some other industries. This made for an uncomfortable yet somewhat promising job search right out of college given the contacts he had made. As his job avenues began closing, he started freelancing, which sounds nice, but it consisted of covering low level high school soccer thirty minutes from home for $30 an article, without being reimbursed for gas. It ended in a globetrotting adventure where he simply was trying to move forward with his life, and no longer share an address with mom and dad. Quite amusingly, he ran the recruiting site for Northwestern University, Purple Reign, from China. He had never lived in the state of Illinois.

Woven throughout the personal anecdotes is a devastating statistical recount of the overall economy’s health from 2007 on, running parallel to his timeline. Oh how the talking video torsos and analysts changed their tune about the prospects of college graduates in 2007 compared to 2009.

As many grads head straight back to the classroom for grad school given the over-flooded job market, Vranicar struggles to decide whether grad school is worth it. How much debt is really worth taking on, especially to walk into a contracting industry such as journalism?

David seems like a kid that did a lot of things right. He took the advice of his parents, teachers, coaches, and mentors growing up to work hard and get an education. He excelled, yet was greeted with a recessionary world that would not carve out a livable wage for him. At least in this country. Vranicar speaks for our generation when he says:

But even if our prospects are uniquely bleak, our attitude isn’t. And we can, at this point, go ahead and cry foul on charges that young graduates’ employment problems are the doing of young graduates. Charges that we were done in by “short attention spans and the need for immediate recognition and advancement,” or that – much to our surprise – our collective ethos was, “Yeah, I don’t want to work, but I’m still going to get all the stuff I want.”
The gist, according to this logic, is that our generation is plagued by an inability to scrap – that adoring parents, inflated grades and third-place little league soccer trophies conditioned us to wait, perfectly idle, for the world to shower us with the spoils of unearned success. This, we can safely say, is bullshit.

Despite his plans being totally annihilated over and over again, Vranicar gained a resolve travelling the world that I’m sure he values dearly. He was able to date a German girl that, from the description, seems absolutely and utterly hot. He hasn’t saved our generation, as blogger James Kunstler asked him, but he has given some perspective on our plight.

The Lost Graduation is a funny, sobering, and honest look at recessionary graduation. The book can be quite disheartening at times, but the personal anecdotes keep you going as the book ventures into a more positive realm. David doesn’t leave us with an update on his life. I’m not sure if he’s back in Kansas City or in some distant corner of the world. Maybe he can provide a current report in a blog post or follow up book. He does a remarkable job of covering the carnage of his economic surroundings without feeling sorry for himself, a tribute to his journalistic prowess.

What the book crystallizes is how little anyone really knows about the future, and how much everyone should be questioned. The current paradigm of telling kids to go to college after high school doesn’t seem to be working out great for everyone. At the very least, people need to be more selective on going to college, and what they study when they get there. Maybe taking a few years to work and travel after high school would be prudent. This would allow a young adult to get a better idea of who they are, what they want, and what’s out in the world before taking out student loans.

Surely, doubling down on the education bubble isn’t the wise choice. Unfortunately, doubling down is what this country is really excellent at.


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