The College Grad/Employment Mismatch

For several years running now, with dueling reports and "Jane, you ignorant slut"-style op-eds in these pages and elsewhere, Richard Vedder and Anthony Carnevale have been arguing about the influence of college-going in the job market. To greatly oversimplify, Carnevale, a Georgetown University labor economist, is "pro": college credentials help people's employment prospects, he asserts, and the country will need more workers with degree-certified skills in the years to come, not fewer.

Vedder, an emeritus economics professor and director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, takes the "con" view: the rapid upturn in the number of Americans with degrees has resulted in many of them taking jobs that don't require advanced skills, inflating the requirements for those jobs and squeezing many non-degreed people out of jobs. Which leads him to argue that too many Americans are going to college, especially in pursuit of bachelor's degrees and higher.

This is not just some theoretical argument between two wonky economists; their views lead directly to questions of whether the United States is overinvesting or underinvesting in programs and policies to sustain or bolster access to higher education, at a time when the federal government (backed by a growing chorus of influential foundations and higher ed organizations) is pursuing an ambitious strategy to significantly increase the proportion of Americans with postsecondary credentials.

In a report released today, Vedder and two co-authors up the ante in the debate. The study, "Why Are Recent College Graduates Underemployed? University Enrollments and Labor Market Realities," expands on previous writings by Vedder and others. Vedder and his co-authors (and CCAP colleagues), Christopher Denhart and Jonathan Robe, cite federal Bureau of Labor Statistics data to show that nearly half of the 41.7 million graduates of four-year colleges in the work force hold jobs that require less than a bachelor's degree (as determined by the BLS).

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