One of the most important investments an individual can make is a college education yet rising tuition has made the cost greater than ever for those looking to invest in higher education. Two-thirds of college seniors graduating in 2011 had an average student loan debt of $26,000. And the debt only continues to grow, now exceeding $1 trillion nationwide, more than auto loan debt or credit card debt, one in five households are carrying student loans. This student debt crisis also affects our economy with younger Americans delaying purchases of things such as homes, cars and other big ticket items, and these act as a drag on growth. The Pew Research Center shows the composition of that debt has shifted and too much is tied to student debt and less to homes. Having a lot of student debt makes it harder to qualify for a mortgage and harder to save for a down payment. And earning a college degree does not guarantee a job. A May 2012 Economic Policy Institute report revealed approximately 54% of recent college graduates are either unemployed or underemployed.
We need to retrain high school and college counselors who give advice to students about which majors and careers to pursue. There is a great need in the U.S. in areas of science, math and engineering. And there are careers that don't require a bachelor's degree such as an electrician. If we are going to be competitive in the 21st Century with China, India, and other places around the world we need to give better guidance and counseling to our students.
Another way to help guide students into career choices is to develop mentoring and internship programs. After graduating from the Stanford University Physician Assistant Program, I realized how many students from the local universities were looking for a career in health care. I began a "shadowing" program where students could spend a day and see what a career as a Physician Assistant is like as well as get advice on applying for a program. This shadowing program became so successful it led to the creation of a website where pre-health students can sign up to shadow a medical professional. The site was initially designed for use by students in the United States but now is being used by three other countries. Mentoring/ shadowing can be done in Law, Teaching, Business, and countless other fields.