4 in 10 grads don’t need college degree at work

Most Americans say their job doesn’t require a college degree, according to a new Gallup poll. But employers often do. Four in ten college graduates don’t use their degree on the job, points out Walter Russell Mead on The American Interest.

Employers often require degrees to show applicants’ determination and work ethic, Mead writes. Academic skills don’t count. That wastes students’ time and money.

We need to separate job training from education, writes Mead. Let career-minded students learn the job skills they need — quickly and inexpensively.

. . .  reduce dumb bachelor’s degree requirements, so that job seekers and employers could be brought together based on aptitude and achievement tests rather than meaningless but expensive paper credentials.

A liberal education is “valuable in itself,” Mead writes. “Rather than force all college students into a bizarre hybrid of liberal education and skill training, we need to figure out how to make a true education more widely available to those who want it, including adults who wish to continue their education later in life.”

1/3 of young Americans hold college degrees

One-third of the nation’s 25- to 29-year-olds have completed at least a bachelor’s degree, according to a Pew study. That’s a new high. Sixty-three percent have completed at least “some” college. And 90 percent have a high school diploma or GED.

With fewer job prospects, young adults are staying in school, Pew reports. In addition, many more people believe a college education is necessary to get ahead in life. In a 2010 Gallup poll, 75 percent said a college education is “very important,”up from 36 percent In 1978.

However, the U.S. higher education system is no longer the best in the world, according to a 2011 Pew survey of college presidents.  “College presidents are concerned about the quality, preparedness and study habits of today’s college students,” Pew reports. Fifty-two percent say college students today study less than their predecessors did a decade ago; just 7 percent say they study more.

College pays — but more isn’t always better

A “college degree is key to economic opportunity,” concludes a new report by Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce. Four-year college graduates earn 84 percent more over a lifetime than those with only a high school diploma, a rise from 75 percent in 1999, the study found.

However, earnings depend not just on education but on the occupational field.  The registered nurse with an associate degree is likely to earn more than the social worker with a bachelor’s.

This graphic shows the earnings overlap relative to the median lifetime earnings of $2,868,000 for workers with a bachelor’s degree. It shows 28.2 percent of workers with an associate degree match the earnings of the median four-year graduate.

Women earn about 25 percent less than men at each educational level. As a result, the average man with “some college” earns as much as the average woman with a bachelor’s degree.

Whites earn more than other races with the same educational attainment until the postgraduate level, where Asian-Americans earn the most.

“Postsecondary education has become the new gateway to the middle class and one of the most important economic issues of our time,” the report concludes.

College grads start at $36,000

A college degree’s worth depends on the major, reports UPI.

Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce found a degree in engineering can be worth more than $1 million more in lifetime earnings while a degree in education can be worth $241,000 more. The Hamilton Project, an economic policy program sponsored by the Brookings Institution, put the average value of a college degree at $570,000 on an average $102,000 investment.

Majors with the highest median pay were petroleum engineering, pharmaceutical sciences and administration, mathematics and computer sciences, aerospace engineering, chemical engineering, electrical engineering, naval architecture and marine engineering, mechanical and metallurgical engineering, and mining and mineral engineering.

The majors with the lowest median earnings were counseling and psychology, early childhood education, theology and religious vocations, human services and community organizations, social work, drama and theater arts, studio arts, communication disorders sciences and services, visual and performing arts, and health and medical preparatory programs.

Job stability was high for graduates in geology, pharmacology and student counseling, while unemployment was highest for graduates in social psychology, nuclear engineering, and educational administration.

“The bottom line is that getting a degree matters, but what you take matters more,” said Anthony P. Carnevale, director of the Center on Education and the Workforce.

A year after graduation, 84 percent of 2007-08 first-time bachelor’s degree recipients were working, 9 percent were looking for work and 7 percent were not in the labor force, an NCES report finds.

The median income was $36,000, up from $29,800 in 2001.

Two-thirds of college graduates owe money: The average debt is $24,700. That’s up from 2001, when 62 percent of graduates owed an average of $17,800.

The most popular fields of study were business-related fields (23 percent); science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (16 percent); social science (16 percent); and humanities (12 percent).

Of course, college doesn’t pay for those who never earn a degree. In 2009, 70.1 percent of high school graduates enrolled in college; three-quarters of those in the lower 40 percent of the class probably won’t graduate. Only 27 percent of Americans hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, according to a 2006 Census Bureau survey. Another 7.4 percent had an associate’s degree.


A costly way to show who’s smart

Most people don’t need a college education to do their job, but they need a degree to get hired, writes Daniel Indiviglio in The Atlantic. It’s a very expensive way to identify who’s smart enough to do a job, he writes.

. . . when high school standards declined and college became more popular, some applicants stood out above others as being more educated and potentially smarter than those with only a high school diploma. If the trend keeps up, however, a time will come when a college degree isn’t enough either: masters degrees will be commonly sought, as the value of college degrees fall to be worth as little high school degrees are today, since so many applicants will have them. If this trend keeps up forever, perhaps we’ll one day have locksmiths with PhD’s.

College is the best investment on the market (for those who complete a degree), counters Derek Thompson, also in The Atlantic. Over a working lifetime, “the typical college graduate earns $570,000 more than the average person with only a high school diploma.”

Let’s say you’re deciding where to invest $100,000 at age 18. Maybe you think to put it in gold, corporate bonds, U.S. government debt, or hot company stocks.

The $102,000 investment in a four-year college yields a rate of return of 15.2 percent per year, more than double the average return over the last 60 years experienced in the stock market” and more than five times the return in corporate bonds, gold, long-term government bonds, or housing, according to a report by Michael Greenstone and Adam Looney.

Note that the associate degree’s rate of return is 20 percent, higher than the pay-off for the bachelor’s degree. I’d guess that’s because the costs of attaining the degree are lower and many associate degrees go to nurses, who make good money.

College is the best mobility strategy

Don’t listen to the naysayers, writes Andrew Rotherham in Time: Actually, College Is Very Much Worth It.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2010, the median weekly earnings for someone with some college but no degree were $712, compared to $1038 for a college graduate. That’s almost $17,000 over the course of a year and there is an even bigger divide for those with less education. College graduates are also more likely to be in jobs with better benefits, further widening the divide. Meanwhile, in 2010, the unemployment rate was 9.2 percent for those with only some college and more than 10 percent for those with just a high school degree, but it was 5.4 percent for college graduates. The economic gaps between college completers and those with less education are getting larger, too.

College “is the most effective social mobility strategy we have,” he argues.  Only 14 percent of Americans from the bottom fifth of parental income reach the top two-fifths — unless they complete college, a Brookings study found. Forty-one percent of graduates make it to the top two-fifths.  

Education gives you choices. Assuming you don’t pile up mountains of debt that constrain your career options (and that outcome is avoidable) or go to a school where just fogging a mirror is good enough to get a diploma, there are not a lot of downsides to going to college.

The economic payoffs depend a great deal on the student’s abilities and interests: The A student with a yen for engineering has a strong chance of earning a marketable degree and paying off reasonable college debts; the C student probably won’t complete even a fog-the-mirror degree, though a vocational certificate could be achievable at reasonable cost.  The B student with an interest in religious studies, art, Latin American Studies, psychology or social work needs to be realistic about the job market before taking on student loans.

Is college worth it?

Is college worth it?, asks a Pew Research Center survey. Many Americans aren’t sure: 57% of those surveyed said the U.S. higher education system doesn’t provide good value for the money students and parents spend. Only 22 percent  believe that most people today can afford to pay for a college education.  

On the plus side, 86 percent of college graduates said college has been a good investment for them personally.  But that doesn’t include people who paid for a year or two of college, but left without completing a degree.

Four-year college graduates estimated they earn $20,000 more a year on average because of their degree.  Workers who didn’t attend college agreed that it costs them about $20,000 a year.  That’s very close to the wage gap reported by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2010: $19,550.

College students are borrowing more: About half of those with substantial debt said it’s harder to pay other bills; a quarter said it has made it harder to buy a home and about a quarter said college debt has affected their career choices.

Most young adults who hadn’t completed college blamed high costs and the need to support a family.

While 94 percent of parents surveyed said they expect their child to attend college, getting a college education didn’t come in first when respondents were asked what it takes for a young person to succeed in life: 61 percent  said a good work ethic is very important, 57 percentsaid they need to know how to get along with people and just 42 percent said a college education is very important.

You’re no Zuckerberg, so get a degree

The U.S. needs more college graduates, says Jamie Merisotis of Lumina Foundation on PBS.

Endlessly, we hear about college drop-outs like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, but their success conceals a startling truth. The U.S. actually needs more college graduates, even taking the great recession into account. Now, economist Tony Carnevale estimates that in a few years, 63 percent of all jobs will require some form of post secondary education or training.

Business leaders should support the value of higher education, Merisotis says.  Without an educated workforce, the U.S. can’t compete with the world.

Watch the full episode. See more Nightly Business Report.

Degree Profile puzzles educators

Lumina Foundation‘s newly announced Degree Qualifications Profile was “a source of fascination (and some skepticism)” at the annual meeting of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The profile—which is referred to by its authors as a “beta version”—is based loosely on “quality assurance” frameworks that have been adopted in Britain, Australia, and other nations. It sketches broad skills that should be universally acquired at each degree level. No matter what bachelor’s-degree students major in, the document says, for example, they should be able to construct “sustained, coherent arguments and/or narratives and/or explications of technical issues and processes, in two media, to general and specific audiences.”

Panelists offered a wide range of uses for the framework: encouraging faculty to ensure students learn needed skills; serving as a “learning contract” between students and colleges; simplifying transfers from community colleges to four-year institutions; making it easier for accreditors to assess colleges, and making college degrees more legible to policy makers and employers.

The profile will be tested at several dozen colleges and universities during the next two years.

Members of the audience said they were confused about how much flexibility colleges would have to modify the degree-profile template to suit their individual characters. The panel’s answers did not necessarily add much clarity. “You can color within the outline,” (co-author Peter) Ewell said, “but you can’t color outside the lines.”

. . . Audience members also wondered whether the degree profile might herald an era when students can graduate after they demonstrate a certain set of skills, regardless of whether that takes them one year or seven years to accomplish. One person asked, “Are we witnessing the end of the credit-hour system?” The panelists generally said that they did not intend anything so radical, but Mr. Ewell said, “If taken seriously, this does represent a shift in that direction.”

Don’t underestimate the political challenges of implementing the framework, said George D. Kuh, a principal investigator of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment.

The Degree Profile is As Elusive as the Snark, complains Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, in a Chronicle commentary. The degree profilers deny their framework will “standardize degrees” or “define what should be taught or how instructors should teach it.” So, what does it do? Wood asks.

The report lists five reference points: specialized knowledge, broad/integrative knowledge, intellectual skills, applied learning, and civic learning.

“Specialized knowledge and broad/integrative knowledge are only superficially distinct,” Wood writes. Creating separate categories is a way to avoid confronting the disintegration of the core curriculum, he speculates.

The genuine breadth of shared knowledge that comes from a college or university determining that all students must master certain key ideas, texts, words, and intellectual experiences is replaced in the Lumina scheme by the idea that “broad/integrative” knowledge is its own thing—in effect another specialization rather than the common ground of all learning.

The separation of “intellectual skills” from “applied learning,” also concerns Wood. “What graduates know” and “what they can do with what they know” isn’t the same thing, he concedes. But the examples of “doing” are weighted to what’s done outside the classroom in the “community.”

Lumina appears to have quietly endorsed the idea favored by one branch of postsecondary education that students can, at least in some fields, concentrate on the “doing” while not wasting too much time on the “knowing.”

The “civic learning” benchmark will mean “efforts to ‘transform’ students’ beliefs and attitudes to conform to progressive ideals,” Woods writes.

Is a degree worth all the debt?

Is a college degree really worth all the debt? Next Media Animation takes a humorous (and bilingual) look at the student loan crisis.