I once had a graduate student with whom I became friends. Ned Flynn, to give him a name, one day told me that after he finished high school he wanted to follow in his father's footsteps and get a job with the railroad. His mother, however, wanted something 'better' for her son. She wanted him to go to college, which he did, in the desultory fashion of many. He ended up declaring a major in psychology and graduating. After spending some time in a monastery, perhaps also at the instigation of his Irish Catholic mother, and still not knowing quite what to do with himself, he was accepted into an M.A. program in philosophy, which is where I met him. After goofing around for several more years, he took a job as a social worker, a job which did not suit him. Last I saw him he was in his mid-thirties and pounding nails.
His complaint to me was that, had he followed his natural bent, he would have had fifteen or so years of job seniority with the railroad, a good paycheck, and a house half paid for. Instead, he wasted years on studies for which he had no real inclination, and no real talent. He had no discernible interest in the life of the mind, and like most working class types could not take it seriously. If you are from the working class, you will know what I mean: 'real' work must involve grunting and sweating and schlepping heavy loads. Those who work on oil rigs or in the building trades do real work. Reading, writing, and thinking are activities deemed effete and not quite real. When my mother saw me reading books, she would sometimes tell me to go outside and do something. That use of 'do' betrayed her working class values. What she didn't realize was that by reading all those fancy books I was putting myself in a position where I could live by my wits and avoid the schlepping and grunting. Of course, the purpose of the life of the mind is not to avoid grunt work, with which I have some acquaintance, but to live a truly human life, whether one fills one's belly from it or not.
Overeducation' is perhaps not the right word for cases like my former student Ned. Strictly speaking, one cannot be overeducated since there is and can be no end to true education. The word is from the Latin e-ducere, to draw out, and there can be no end to the process of actualizing the potential of a mind with an aptitude for learning. Perhaps the right word is 'over-credentialed.' It is clear that what most people in pursuit of 'higher education' want is not an education, strictly speaking, but a credential that will gain them admittance to a certain social and/or economic status. 'Education as most people use it nowadays is a euphemism for a ticket to success, where the latter is defined in terms of money and social position.