A growing number of college graduates are underemployed, concludes a new study from the Center for College Affordability and Productivity.
About 48 percent of employed U.S. college graduates are in jobs that the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) suggests requires less than a four-year college education. Eleven percent of employed college graduates are in occupations requiring more than a high-school diploma but less than a bachelor’s, and 37 percent are in occupations requiring no more than a high-school diploma;
In 1970, fewer than one percent of taxi drivers and two percent of firefighters had college degrees; now more than 15 percent do in both jobs. Increasingly, new college graduates are working as clerks, cashiers, retail sales reps and waiters and waitresses, the report found. About five million are in jobs the BLS says require less than a high-school education.
Comparing average earnings for high school and college graduates is misleading, the report warns. “Overproduction of college graduates lowers recent graduate earnings relative to those graduating earlier.”
Not all colleges are equal: Typical graduates of elite private schools make more than graduates of flagship state universities, but those graduates do much better than those attending relatively non-selective institutions;
Not all majors are equal: Engineering and economics graduates, for example, typically earn almost double what social work and education graduates receive by mid-career;
The number of college graduates is projected to increase by 19 million in 20 years; the number of jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree is projected to increase by 7 million, according to the BLS.
If President Obama’s college completion goal is met, even more young people will be competing for a limited number of professional jobs, warns Richard Vedder, co-author of the study and director of CCAP. Soon, would-be janitors will need “a master’s degree in Janitorial Studies.”
The “college for all” movement is misguided, CCAP argues, calling for “new and cheaper ways to assure employee competency” and investing “less in four year degree programs and more in cheaper training, including high school vocational education.”
College graduates continue to earn significantly more than non-graduates, Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, tells Inside Higher Ed.
“You can’t have a 48 percent surplus of college graduates and an 84 percent college wage premium over high school,” Carnevale wrote via e-mail. “This advantage wouldn’t have been growing along with the number of college graduates since 1983. The market is very responsive to labor supply…. If there was an over production the employers would’ve figured it out some time over the past 30 years.”
Nearly half of sales reps in the wholesale and manufacturing industries have four-year degrees in what the BLS considers a high school-level job. “What Vedder doesn’t point out is that sales representatives with B.A.s make $73,000 a year compared with sales representatives with high school degrees who only make $38,000 a year,” says Carnevale.