By Ed Zwirn
(Published in New York Post on March 19, 2017.)
Contrary to widespread reports of its demise, the American dream may in fact be alive and well, at least if you go by America’s college students.
According to a survey of more than 3,300 current and prospective college students, 74 percent of them believe they will wind up better off financially than their parents.
The results are gleaned from questions to students applying for a $5,000 scholarship from Nitro, a company that offers resources to students looking to finance their educations. They also show a very fiscally oriented student population, with 90 percent choosing their majors based on salary expectations.
Mike Brown, managing director at Nitro, admits he was surprised at the extent of the optimism and financial awareness on the part of the surveyed students but he also points to a Pew Research Center study that shows college graduates’ median salaries growing from $38,800 in 1965 to $45,500 in 2013. At the same time, the median annual earnings for high school graduates fell from $31,400 to $28,000.
“When you think about it, this goes against the stereotype that Generation Z is lazy and unaware,” he said.
Andrew Raghunanan, who is set to complete Pace University’s five-year accounting MBA program after transferring three years ago from Westchester Community College, is one of those students who believes in the monetary value of getting a college education.
He said he took his first accounting class in high school, and he realized then that he wanted to go into the field “because of the salary and because I just love playing with numbers.”
The 23-year-old Raghunanan’s parents immigrated from Trinidad and Tobago in the 1970s, and he is the first member of his family to go to college. He is set to start working at KPMG in Connecticut in October, after finishing his studies, and expects to start making “above $60,000.”
He, like other survey respondents, says he “most definitely” expects to become wealthier than his mother, who works as an assistant in a dental office, and father, who is employed at a tool company in New Jersey.
“I do expect to become wealthier than my parents, since neither of them went to college,“ added John Schilling, a Denver high school student who plans to enter NYU’s pre-med program this fall. “They both worked very hard and were able to obtain pretty well-paying jobs to help support our family, but neither of them are even close to a doctor’s salary.”
On the other hand, at least some college students are currently heading toward graduation day without a clear idea of their earnings prospects.
Brianna Perriello, a senior who will graduate in May from Pace after having studied marketing and integrated communications, said she has taken a part-time job with Westchester Magazine and plans to continue working part time while going to graduate school. “Salary really didn’t play that big a part” in selecting her course of study, she said.
Will she become wealthier than her parents?
“I’d like to,” she said, “but it’s really not that important.”