News reports about the U.S. unemployment rate often point out that the unemployment rate for people without a college degree is higher than the rate for those with a degree.
And it’s true. According to last month’s U.S. government data, the unemployment rate for those with a high school diploma, but no college, was 8.8 percent, whereas the rate for those with a bachelor’s degree and higher was 4.1 percent.
But those numbers don’t tell the entire story. This is because many employed college graduates are in jobs that don’t require a college degree. When you consider that many of these students spent four years in college, accrued tens of thousands of dollars of debt and are stuck at essentially the same job they would’ve gotten straight out of high school, it’s arguable that the employment situation for college graduates is actually worse than it is for those who merely finished high school.
A recent analysis by the Associated Press found that 53.6 percent of college graduates under the age of 25 are either unemployed or underemployed. In other words, less than 47 percent of recent college graduates have a job that utilizes their degree.
Imagine being told that on the first day of freshman orientation: “More than half of you will not find your degree beneficial.”
The analysis found that more recent college graduates are employed in the food service industry (100,000) than as engineers, mathematicians, chemists and physicists (90,000).
Even more disturbing is that most fields expected to have job openings through 2020 are in areas that do not require a degree:
According to government projections released last month, only three of the 30 occupations with the largest projected number of job openings by 2020 will require a bachelor’s degree or higher to fill the position – teachers, college professors and accountants. Most job openings are in professions such as retail sales, fast food and truck driving, jobs which aren’t easily replaced by computers.
One of the questions I asked in my multimedia project on higher education last fall is: Do colleges have a responsibility to steer students into majors that are more likely to result in employment?
Certainly colleges have never been viewed solely as job training centers; there is much more to the college experience than that. But, it used to be that college was reserved for the best and brightest; thus, any college degree virtually guaranteed employment at a high paying job. That is no longer the case. Employers in the fields where the jobs are, such as computer science, won’t even consider an applicant who majored in, for example, creative writing.
Does it really make sense for colleges to offer programs like creative writing or theology when the overwhelming majority of those enrolled in those programs will never have a career in those fields? It would seem more logical that such programs be limited to a handful of exemplary students with the potential to succeed in those fields.
The only silver lining in the AP analysis — and it’s a stretch — is that “employers tend to value bachelor’s degree-holders more highly than high-school graduates, paying them more for the same work and offering promotions.”
But it reveals what may be the crux of the problem: It appears that higher education is no longer the way to get ahead, but, rather, the way to maintain where you already are.