Skip College is Advice for World-Beating Koreans
Kim Hye Min boasts a 4.0 grade- point average at one of South Korea’s top colleges, a perfect score in English proficiency and internships at Samsung Card Co. (029780) and AT Kearney Inc. All of her 20 job applications were rejected.
“A degree from a good university used to guarantee a spot at least at a top 10 company, but that was when a college degree actually meant something,” Kim, 25, said on Aug. 28, as she walked to a Chinese lesson she’s taking to boost her chance of joining one of the nation’s most prestigious employers. “I studied hard and did everything right, but there are too many of us who did.”
With almost three out of four high school students going to college in an effort to get a top-paying job in one of the leading industrial groups, known as chaebols, South Korea is being flooded with more college graduates than it needs. Its 30 biggest companies hired 260,000 of them last year, leaving another 60,000 to swell the youth unemployment rate to 7.3 percent in July, more than twice the national average.
The government’s response is a U-turn from decades of increasingly competitive and expensive education that made South Korea No. 1 in the world for academic qualifications. President Lee Myung Bak’s new message to many high-school students is: Skip college and go to work.