College attainment is increasing, slowly but steadily, reports the Lumina Foundation. As of 2011, 38.7 percent of working-age Americans had earned a two- or four-year college degree and another 5 percent of adults held a “postsecondary certificate with significant economic value.”
Young adults (ages 25-34) do slightly better: 40.1 percent have earned an associate or bachelor’s degree.
Lumina’s Goal 2025 — 60 percent of adults with a high-value certificate or degree — will require faster progress, the report states.
Higher education pays off, even in a tough economy, Lumina argues.
Between the beginning of the recession in December 2007 and its official end in January 2010, the economy lost 5.6 million jobs for Americans with a high school education or less. Jobs requiring an associate degree or some college declined by 1.75 million, while the number of jobs for Americans with a bachelor’s degree or above actually grew by 187,000.
. . . Since the end of the recession, jobs requiring an associate degree or some college have grown by 1.6 million and almost recovered to pre-recession levels. Jobs for bachelor’s degree holders actually have accelerated their growth — adding 2 million new jobs during the recovery.
Jobs for workers with only a high school diploma continue to decline.
Recent college graduates are far more likely to be employed than high school graduates: 88 percent of 23- and 24-year-old college graduates have jobs compared to 65 percent of less-educated workers the same age. ”The wage premium — the gap between what employers are willing to pay for graduates vs. those who don’t have a postsecondary credential — is actually growing, and has continued to grow throughout the recession and its aftermath.”
44% of Young College Grads Are Underemployed (and That’s Good News), writes Jordan Weissmann in The Atlantic. In a weak economy, many new graduates have to take jobs that don’t require a college degree, argues Weissmann. It’s worse now “because the economy got fed through a wood chipper during the recession and we still haven’t picked up all the pieces,” not because a bachelor’s degree has lost value.
College graduates during the 80s and early 90s were as likely to be overqualified for their jobs as young graduates today, according to New York Fed President William Dudley. Most graduates then eventually found professional jobs.
The obvious difference between higher education today and in 1990 is the cost of a degree, and the amount of debt students take on to finance it. So while failing to land a college-level job straight out of school might have been tolerable in the past, today it might mean severe financial hardship, especially if students aren’t savvy about how to handle their student debt (three words: Income. Based. Repayment).
There’s evidence that young people who graduate into a recession and start lower on the job ladder never recover completely.
I’d like to see a good survey asking whether collegebound students understand their likely future earnings and loan payments. Do they know the risks? If they did, second- and third-tier private colleges would have to slash tuition or go out of business.
Be deeply suspicious of promises that a bachelor’s degree will raise earnings significantly, warns Tim Donovan on Salon. If the “higher interest rate convinces even a few 18-year-olds not to take on huge debt for that Musical Theater degree, maybe it’s not so bad,” he writes.
More Americans are earning college degrees: 33.5 percent of Americans ages 25 to 29 had at least a bachelor’s degree in 2012, compared with 24.7 percent in 1995, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The number of two-year college degrees, master’s degrees and doctorates has also risen.
Enrollment and graduation rates are up, reports the New York Times. “The recent recession, which pushed more workers of all ages to take shelter on college campuses while the job market was poor, has also played a role.”
“Basically, I was just barely getting by, and I didn’t like my job, and I wanted to do something that wasn’t living dollar to dollar,” said Sarah O’Doherty, 24, a former nail salon receptionist who will graduate next month from the County College of Morris in New Jersey with a degree in respiratory therapy.
However, only about half of first-time college freshmen in 2006 had earned a degree by 2012, according to the National Student Clearinghouse.
Low-income students continue to lag bar behind. ”Only about 1 out of 10 Americans whose parents were in the lowest income quartile held four-year college degrees by age 24 in 2011, compared to 7 in 10 from the highest quartile.
“There are worrisome signs that the demand for high-skilled talent is increasing more rapidly than we’re actually educating people,” said Lumina Foundation CEO Jamie P. Merisotis.
Lumina’s new report, A Stronger Nation Through Higher Education 2013, estimates that 38.7 percent of working-age Americans (ages 25-64) held a two- or four-year college degree in 2011. That’s rising, but not fast enough to meet the foundation’s Goal 2025, which aims to increase the percentage of Americans with “high-quality degrees and credentials” to 60 percent in 12 years.
While 59.1 percent of working-age Asian-Americans and 43.3 percent of whites have earned a degree, that falls to 27.1 percent for blacks and 19.3 for Hispanics. The gap is even wider for young adults.
Lumina announced 10 achievement targets to raise the college attainment trend lines.
College graduates’ skills don’t match the available jobs, said participants in a community forum in Fort Collins, Colorado, reports The Coloradoan.
Matt Dinsmore, co-owner of Wilbur’s Total Beverage in Fort Collins, said he employs three people with masters’ degrees, including a beer stocker with a physics degree.
Martin Shields, a Colorado State University economics professor, said a college degree is an important investment, but the first four to five years after college are “tougher than they’ve ever been.”
Dawn Putney, CEO of design and marketing firm Toolbox Creative, most four-year graduates don’t have the job skills she needs. Young people are encouraged to go for a university degree, not to explore alternatives such as community colleges, she said.
Jim Neubecker, a member of the Governor’s Workforce and Small Business Development Council, said union electricians, pipe-fitters and plumbers can work 40 hours per week while attending school two nights per week, learning skills while avoiding debt. Community colleges often partner with unions to get students certified on otherwise prohibitively expensive equipment, Neubecker said.
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.
China has quadrupled the number of community college and university graduates in the last decade, but many are unemployed or underemployed because they refuse to take low-status factory jobs, reports the New York Times. In the U.S., employment rises with education. In Chinese cities, young college graduates are four times as likely to be unemployed as those with an elementary education, according to a survey by a Chinese university.
In Guangzhou, “factories make everything from T-shirts and shoes to auto parts, tablet computers and solar panels,” reports the Times. Wages, benefits and living conditions have improved dramatically, but many factories are “desperate for workers.”
Wang Zengsong is desperate for a steady job. He has been unemployed for most of the three years since he graduated from a community college here after growing up on a rice farm. Mr. Wang, 25, has worked only several months at a time in low-paying jobs, once as a shopping mall guard, another time as a restaurant waiter and most recently as an office building security guard.
But he will not consider applying for a full-time factory job because Mr. Wang, as a college graduate, thinks that is beneath him. Instead, he searches every day for an office job, which would initially pay as little as a third of factory wages.
The one-child policy means many young graduates can count on the support of their two parents and four grandparents.
As in the U.S., factories in China are having trouble finding workers who can operate and maintain complex equipment. Yet vocational students are outnumberedctwo to one by students in academic classes.
China is spending $250 billion a year to send tens of millions of young people to community colleges and universities, reports the New York Times. China has quadrupled the output of two- and four-year college graduates in the last decade.
The aim is to change the current system, in which a tiny, highly educated elite oversees vast armies of semi-trained factory workers and rural laborers. China wants to move up the development curve by fostering a much more broadly educated public, one that more closely resembles the multifaceted labor forces of the United States and Europe.
Li Shufu, the chairman of the automaker Geely, has opened a university that stresses engineering and science, particularly auto engineering, endowed a liberal arts university and “opened a 5,000-student vocational community college in his hometown, Taizhou, to train skilled blue-collar workers.”
As recently as 1996, only one in six Chinese 17-year-olds graduated from high school. That was the same proportion as in the United States in 1919. Now, three in five young Chinese graduate from high school, matching the United States in the mid-1950s.
China’s community colleges and universities produce eight million graduates a year, compared to three million a year in the U.S., which has about one-fourth the number of people.
Some question the quality of China’s higher education system, notes the Times. Experts say “the growth of classroom slots in higher education has outstripped the supply of qualified professors and instructors.”
If the U.S. is to lead the world in college graduates — President Obama’s goal — it must increase associate degree holders, concludes Getting Back on Top, a report by Jim Hull, senior policy analyst at the National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education. That will require a national focus on enrollment and success in community colleges and trade schools.
Currently the U.S. ranks second only to Norway (35 percent) in the percentage of adults holding a bachelor’s degree or better at 32 percent. However, America is outranked by most countries when it comes to two-year degree graduates, tying for 18th with the United Kingdom and Germany at 10 percent.
Overall, the U.S. ranks fifth in the world in adults with degrees at 42 percent when not differentiating between two- and four-year colleges — behind Russia (54 percent), Canada (51 percent), Israel (46 percent) and Japan (45 percent).
When it comes to young adults ages 25 to 34, the U.S. is falling behind other countries, which are producing more young two- and four-year graduates.
“If we can double the 10-percent two-year degree rate to get to a 20, 25 percent rate, we will be up there in total college attainment rate, which will have a significant impact not only on college rankings,” Hull said.
It’s not just a matter of bragging rights, of course. Many jobs now require more than a high school diploma but less than a bachelor’s degree.
Education Is The Key To Better Jobs, concludes the Hamilton Project. (The chart’s “some college” group includes people with associate degrees and certificates, I believe.)
However, charting the superior earnings of college graduates doesn’t answer the chicken-or-egg question: Do college graduates earn more because of the degree or because they were smarter and more goal-oriented in the first place?
In The Atlantic, Derek Thompson displays an earlier Hamilton graph, which compares the rate of return from an associate and bachelor’s degree against other investment options. Because community college tuition is so low, the associate degree has the highest rate of return.
Almost half the jobs lost in the recession have been recovered and virtually all the added jobs require a college credential of some kind, reports the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce.
“It is a tough job market for college graduates but far worse for those without a college education,” said Anthony P. Carnevale, the Georgetown Center’s director and co-author of the report.
Four-year college graduates continue to earn twice as much as high school graduates. Unemployment is relatively high for graduates, but they do much better than workers with only a high school diploma.
. . . in 2012, seven percent of graduates with a bachelor degree or better are still unemployed and another 14 percent are underemployed in jobs beneath their skill levels. By comparison, the unemployment rate for new high school graduates is 24 percent and 42 percent for those individuals are underemployed.
Jobs that require bachelor’s degrees have been the big winner, increasing by 2.2 million jobs since the recession began.
Those jobs that required some college or an associate’s degree declined by 1.8 million in the recession but have regained 1.6 million of those job losses since the recovery began in 2010. At the same time 5.8 million jobs for those with high school or less have been lost since the recession began.
“In the mid 1970s, less than 30 percent of jobs in America required any education beyond high school,” said Jamie P. Merisotis, president and chief executive officer of Lumina Foundation. “Today, the majority of U.S. jobs require a postsecondary degree or credential.”
In blue-collar sectors, which took the brunt of the recession, college-educated workers were much less likely to lose their jobs. For example, 25 percent of construction workers with high school diplomas were laid off compared to two percent of college graduates.
College enrollment jumped sharply in the recession, peaking in 2009 but has fallen off rapidly since then. Since 2006, the rate of increase in male enrollment has caught up and slightly surpassed the rate of increase in female enrollment.