More College Graduates Than Jobs Requiring Degrees

May 28, 2014

More and more, today's college graduates face uncertain futures. Many will end up in jobs that require only high school diplomas, explains economist Richard Vedder.

In 2014, colleges and universities across the United States will confer 1.8 million bachelor's degrees upon American students. Many graduates will enter the labor force and take home large salaries, but many others will end up in jobs that have historically been the province of those with only a high school diploma. Today, more than 1 million college graduates work in retail sales.

While the 2008 financial crisis can take some of the blame, this state of affairs is not merely the product of a weak economy and poor job growth. Rather, there are simply more college graduates than there are jobs that require a college education. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), this problem will only grow:

  • The BLS predicts that between 2012 and 2022, the U.S. will see a net increase of 15,628,000 jobs. But of that number, only 4,230,500 will require a minimum of a college degree.
  • According to the agency, nearly 9 million of these jobs will require no postsecondary education at all.
  • Of the 10 occupations with the largest projected job growth, none require a bachelor's degree. Only one job (registered nurse) requires an associate's degree. Six of the top 10 jobs -- including personal care aids, construction laborers, and retail salespersons -- do not even require a high school diploma.
  • Of the top 30 jobs in projected job growth, only five require a bachelor's degree. These include general and operations managers, elementary school teachers, accountants and auditors, software developers and management analysts.

The growth in college degrees is having a negative impact on less-educated job seekers, Vedder explains. Because so many Americans have degrees, employers are narrowing their applicant pools by raising job educational requirements. While administrative assistants do not require a bachelor's degree, for example, employers are beginning to insist upon them. This trend is increasing unemployment among the lesser educated.

Solving this problem, writes Vedder, will be difficult until the American system of financing higher education is reformed. As long as the federal government continues distributing student loans to all students, regardless of their prospects for academic success, the U.S. will continue to have large numbers of indebted college graduates in low-paying jobs.

Source: Richard K. Vedder, "Congrats on That Diploma. You May Not Need It," Bloomberg, May 25, 2014.

 

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