THE young woman in a New Yorker cartoon is decked out in a cap and gown, about to receive her college diploma. But when the school president hands her the prized parchment she refuses it, saying, "Uh... no, thank you. I'll just stay another four years."
Her reluctance to leave might reflect the uncertainty some members of the Class of 1992 are feeling as they discover that a newly minted degree doesn't automatically lead to a well-paying position. Faced with what some employment specialists are calling the tightest job market in two decades, graduates may find themselves wondering about career prospects. So discouraged was one young man in Washington, D.C., that he told a reporter, "My sights keep getting lower and lower, and I keep wondering why I went
Setting sights lower, at least temporarily, might be a necessary adjustment for some of this year's educated job-seekers. Graduates may have been spoiled by legendary stories from the high-flying '80s, promising that if you do well in class, all the Fortune 500 recruiters will be fighting over you.
But questioning the value of college itself, simply because no job has materialized yet? Time was when higher education was regarded as more than a means to a jackpot payoff. Yet the more a college education costs, the more the question, "What are you getting out of it?" tends to be answered in monetary, rather than intellectual, terms. Labor analysts who conclude that a liberal arts degree doesn't get a student very far anymore see college as a white-collar trade school. From that perspective, a degree becomes little more than a dollars-and-cents return on investment.
Satisfying, remunerative work is a legitimate goal for graduates. But it would be unfortunate if the employment outlook were to dim the jubilation of students and their parents. Commencement ought to be more than an academic costume party at which profits from the four-year investment are calculated in advance. If the highest ideals of education mean anything, minds have expanded, hearts have learned to be generous - human beings have been made more complete. These are the best reasons of all for celebra tion.