Too many college graduates?

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.


CCs can bridge the skills gap

Community colleges are “ideally positioned to close the skills gap and train out-of-work Americans for “middle-skill jobs,” write Anthony Carnevale and Nicole Smith of Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW) in GOOD. Sixty percent of jobs today require some postsecondary education or training, and the percentage will continue to rise, they predict.

With the help of community colleges, 1.5 million unemployed Americans could qualify for good jobs that require more than high school training but less than a bachelor’s degree, the researchers estimate. Roughly 21 percent of all jobs require “middle: skills: 29 million pay at least $35,000 a year and nearly 10 million pay more than $50,000. A “significant number actually pay more than entry-level jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree.”

However, community colleges are under pressure to raise graduation rates and ensure that graduates find jobs in their field.

With completion rates as the new criterion of success, community colleges run the risk of no longer being open access—a safe haven for students looking to complete remedial work, basic education or professional training that may or may not lead to a piece of paper certifying some kind of “completion” of a course of study.

Carnevale and Smith recommend four ways to help community colleges close the skills gap while balancing the goals of open access and high completion rates:

Community colleges should be allowed to have lower graduation rates than current metrics suggest—especially if they are tasked with having open access and non-traditional students.

. . . Funding levels should be attached to programs, not students, and should reflect the varying needs of those programs. For example, nursing programs that require access to very expensive technical equipment should be funded at a higher level than, say, courses in the liberal arts.

Strengthening the high school-to-college pipeline could reduce the number of students in community colleges who need remedial help, and ultimately lead to better completion rates for everyone.

Both community colleges and four-year institutions should provide more concrete data about the money value of college courses, programs and majors. The expected payoff, long-term costs and value of a college major should be information that all colleges make available to every potential and current student.

Community colleges will be of increasing importance in helping Americans prepare for the workforce and retrain to meet new workforce demands, Carnevale and Smith conclude.

Georgetown: New jobs go to college-credentialed workers

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.

Where the jobs (and money) will be

There will be middle-class jobs for high school graduates — especially as baby boomers retire — but there won’t be enough to go around, concludes the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce’s new Career Clusters report.

In 1973, 72 percent of jobs were open to workers with a high school diploma or less. That will fall to 37 percent by 2018, the report predicts.

About 29 percent of jobs will require “middle skills,” such as a certificate or associate degree or “some college.”

Wages rise with education: Only 36 percent of jobs for workers with only a high school diploma pay $35,000 or more, compared to 54 percent of jobs for associate degree graduates and 69 percent of jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree.

High school-level jobs are found in four male dominated career clusters: manufacturing, construction, transportation, and hospitality. Of these four clusters, only jobs in manufacturing and construction still pay relatively good wages; particularly for those who obtain on-the-job-training.

There will be fewer manufacturing jobs, but retiring baby boomers will create many openings for the younger generation.

Women need postsecondary education to earn a middle-class wage, the study found.  Health care is the most promising field for women with a certificate or associate degree.

The highest paying jobs for workers with some college or an associate degree are in manufacturing and in business, management and administration.  For example, operations managers with an associate degree average $71,000 and administrative support staff earn $36,100.

In the manufacturing cluster, associate degree holders earn $43,200 as computer and machine repair technicians. First-line supervisors of mechanics, installers and repairers earned $61,000.