Too Many College Grads? Or Too Few?

Career College Central summary:

  • Like the rest of Americans, college graduates are struggling to find jobs. Are there just too many of them over saturating the labor market? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it would seem so: only 27 percent of jobs in the U.S. require at least an associate degree and the ranks of under and unemployed college graduates are likely to grow over the next ten years.
  • But the BLS projections of demand for college grads are dangerously understated, argue Anthony Carnevale and his colleagues at the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce. Why dangerously? Because they discourage disadvantaged students, for whom tertiary education is not a foregone conclusion, from earning a college degree. Carnevale is director of the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce. In October, Carnevale explained why it’s taking so long for millennials — the most educated generation — to reach the middle of the wage distribution.
  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the premier government source for information on jobs, shows that only 27 percent of jobs (percentage calculated from table 2) in the U.S. economy currently require a college degree (associate degree or higher). By comparison, the Current Population Survey, a monthly survey of 60,000 households conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, shows that 47 percent of workers have an associate degree or higher.
  • The BLS projections to 2022 are even more depressing. They suggest that the number of overqualified and underemployed college graduates will only get worse. According to BLS, the economy will create 50.6 million job openings by 2022 and only 27.1 percent will require college degrees. That’s a projected increase of only 2.1 percentage points since 1996.
  • The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce disagrees, particularly as it relates to the education required for those jobs. Our projections suggest that the economy will create 55 million new job openings over the next decade, and 65 percent, or 37 million, of these new job vacancies will require some postsecondary education and training.
  • According to the BLS’ Monthly Labor Review, only 23 percent of jobs will require a bachelor’s degree or higher in 2022. By comparison, our projections show that, by 2020, 35 percent of jobs will require a bachelor’s degree or higher. The BLS estimates are frighteningly low given that so many of our competitor nations have far exceeded them over the past decades. The United States was one of the top countries in college achievement in 1992 but has since fallen to number 11 among Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) nations. The United States performs especially poorly in sub-baccalaureate attainment, where we now rank 15th among our peers.

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