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Rethink the value of college

In a world where a degree no longer means a job, we need to prepare students for challenges ahead.

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Today's economic downturn has blindsided a generation of young people around the globe brought up to believe that a college degree guaranteed them financial prosperity. Whether in the US, China, or in countries in between, graduates from even marquee-name schools are feeling the crunch, prompting many rightly to rethink the value of their education.

In the US, where higher education is increasingly seen as a right, the unemployment rate among workers with a bachelor's degree or higher reached 3.1 percent in November. While that figure is modest compared with the nation's current overall unemployment rate of about 7.2 percent, it ranks near an all-time high. Analysts predict that the college-educated unemployment rate will exceed 4 percent, which would be the highest since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking unemployment by education level in 1970.

The picture in China is also gloomy. The government reported in late January that the growth rate for the final quarter of last year fell to 6.8 percent, bringing the rate for the full year down to 9 percent – the slowest pace in at least six years. In 2007, for example, China's economy expanded at a robust 13 percent clip. Analysts say growth could drop to 5 or 6 percent this year, the slowest in more than a decade.

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