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Career crisis

"Career crisis" Continued...

Issue: "Back to School," Aug. 27, 2011

John Challenger, head of the Challenger, Gray & Christmas outplacement consulting firm, is not entirely pessimistic about today's college graduates and their career prospects. Besides, he says, "maybe it's better for this generation to have some tougher times to fight through. Look what going through tough times did for some of our great generations in the past."

Listen to Marvin Olasky and Dan Reed discuss WORLD's Back to School issue on The World and Everything in It.

Delusions of grandeur?

Today's college students feel better about themselves than college freshmen of the 1960s did. San Diego State psychology professor Jean Twenge, writing in the online British journal Self and Identity, noted that in 2009 about half of the freshmen surveyed marked themselves as above average in social and intellectual confidence. That's 10-20 percentage points higher than in 1966.

"Having some degree of confidence is often a good thing," says Twenge. But she sees a growing disconnect between self-perception and reality: "It's not just confidence. It's overconfidence." At fault, she says, is the self-esteem "every child is special" mentality and "tiger" parents who push their children to achieve.

Jeffrey Arnett, a psychology professor at Clark University, doesn't object to Twenge's findings, but he says the overemphasis on negative stereotypes might overshadow positive trends. He points to lower rates in crime and substance abuse among college students, and greater willingness to perform community service: In 1990, 17 percent of college freshmen said they would likely participate in public service, compared to nearly a third of freshmen in 2010.

Janelle Mills, a junior at Stetson University in Florida, says she and her peers get tired of "entitled" and "lazy" labels. She says the study contains some truth about overconfidence: "Kids are being encouraged to be the best that they can be. . . . Modesty and humility are no longer common and are becoming harder to find."

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