First the bad news: The Wall Street meltdown has resulted in thousands fewer well-paying jobs for the new crop of top college graduates. Now the good news: The Wall Street meltdown has resulted in thousands fewer well-paying jobs for the new crop of top college graduates. I don’t mean to minimize the pain wreaked by the near-collapse of the financial sector. But there is a silver lining. With high finance suddenly in low regard, more of our brightest young people could soon be devoting their brainpower not to moving around paper for financial firms, but to such daunting problems as global warming, energy depletion, and our crumbling infrastructure.
I hadn’t realized how out of whack our priorities had become until I started visiting colleges a few years ago with my sons. At many engineering programs, most recent grads had gone into finance, lured by six-figure starting salaries and the prestige of a Wall Street sinecure. A dean at one Ivy League school explained that Wall Street loved engineering students because of their analytical thinking and problem-solving skills. Unfortunately, they ended up working on credit default swaps, collateralized debt obligations, and the other dizzying financial products that got us into this mess. Business grads, of course, flocked to these same investment banks—some of which no longer exist. As a result, the next generation of MBAs is more likely to follow an entrepreneurial path. So instead of securitizing subprime mortgages, say, they might make things we actually need. Others are expected to go into public service or the nonprofit sector. Come to think of it, this is starting to seem less like a silver lining and more like a golden one.