Is a degree worth it for all students?

The U.S. workforce is facing a shortage of college-educated workers, predicts Help Wanted: Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements Through 2018 by Anthony Carnevale, Nicole Smith, and Jeff Strohl of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

Not true, responds George Leef of the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy. A college degree is “worth it” for some students, but not all,

It’s undeniably true that on average, those who have college degrees earn significantly more than do those without them. But that doesn’t tell us anything about the margin: Will an individual who could go to college but is only a mediocre student necessarily enjoy a wage premium if he or she decides on college?

Most top earners earned a college degree. But college-educated workers also appear in the lowest-earning categories: Among those making $20,000 or less annually, 6 percent have master’s degrees or higher, 14 percent have bachelor’s degrees, and 9 percent have associate’s degrees; In the group earning between $20,000 and $35,000 per year, 5 percent have a master’s or higher, 15 percent have a bachelor’s, and 11 percent have an associate’s degree.

Ten percent of cashiers have an associate’s degree or higher and 23 percent more have “some college,”  Leef writes.

How many students choose to go to college anticipating a job as a cashier?

Long before the recession, some college graduates have ended up in low-paying jobs that don’t require a college education. The differential between wages of college-educated workers and less-educated workers has been trending down since 2005, suggesting “the labor force is glutted with workers who have college degrees,” Leef writes.

For some young people, going to college makes just as much sense as always and it would be foolish to tell an individual, “Don’t go to college because the average wage differential has fallen.” But the paper is about the supposed national, macroeconomic, need for greater numbers of college-educated workers. The falling wage differential, which reflects the numbers of college-educated people with jobs as cashiers, waitresses, travel agents and so on, undermines the authors’ conclusion about the “rising demand for college-educated workers.”

Employers often use the college degree as a screening mechanism, not because jobs actually require skills or knowledge learned in college, Leef adds in another column.

He cites Saving Higher Education in the Age of Money, which calls the U.S.  “the most rigidly credentialized society in the world. A B.A. is required for jobs that by no stretch of imagination need two years full time training, let alone four.”

I did a series on school-to-work programs in the ’90s. Employers told me they were requiring “some college” or a bachelor’s degree for jobs that once required only a high school diploma. Even a bachelor’s degree is no guarantee of literacy skills, especially writing, they said. Young people who are capable of learning on the job now find it much harder to get their first job, unless they go to college.

The student debt crisis is forcing students to think more seriously about college costs. I don’t think mediocre students can go wrong by enrolling in community college, which offers low-cost job training and education. Mediocre students who start at a higher-cost four-year college or university are at risk of taking on debt they won’t be able to repay when they’re working as cashiers and clerks.

Here are Seven Reasons Not to Send Your Kid to College, assuming you plan to spend $200,000 on one child’s college education.

See also Glenn Reynolds on the higher education bubble.


POSTED BY Joanne Jacobs ON August 9, 2010

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[…] On Community College Spotlight: Is a college degree worth it for all students? […]

Cynical

The BA is the post-Grigg vs. Duke Power IQ test. It is far more expensive, but it is the only lawful substitute under “disparate impact” law.

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by PathBuilder, Inc., Joanne Jacobs. Joanne Jacobs said: Blog: Is a degree worth it for all students? http://communitycollegespotlight.org/content/is-a-degree-worth-it-for-all-students_1286/ […]

[…] On Community College Spotlight, I’ve got a piece by George Leef, who challenges the idea that the economy will demand more college-educated workers. College is “worth it” for academically capable students, he writes, but how valuable is college for mediocre and marginal students? […]

Trident University

A mediocre college graduate is not necessarily going to earn a lot of money because if you are “mediocre” then you are more likely to be that way in all aspects of your life. College is just a start but after college you still have around 40 years to go before retirement; a degree can’t carry you through for that long if you are lacking in many departments.

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