by China Gorman
There are lots of data to suggest that the ticket to economic success in the United States is a college degree. If you look at a report out of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce published in June, 2010, you’ll see this:
The delta between attaining a bachelor’s degree, and not, has a significant impact on lifetime earnings. No surprise there.
Similarly, current BLS data show that workers with college degrees have lower unemployment rates:
- Bachelor’s degree or higher: 4.0%
- Some college or Associate degree: 7.6%
- High school no college: 7.9%
- Less than high school: 12.5%
Based on this information, you could assume that earning a college degree would practically gurantee job security. But that wouldn’t be true.
A deeper look at the data is illuminating. This is Georgetown University’s report, Help Wanted: Projections of Jobs and Educations Requirements Through 2018.
The categories of jobs requiring “Some college, no degree” and “Associates’ degree” combined are larger than the “Bachelor’s degree” category. And the category of jobs requiring a high school degree is also larger than the “Bachelor’s degree” category.
Obviously, not every job requires a college degree. In fact, in 2018 only 33% of the jobs in our economy will require a college degree or advanced degree. While this report estimates that there will be 3 million fewer college graduates than required, we shouldn’t overlook the fact that job growth in the sectors requiring a high school diploma, some college, or an Associate’s degree, will also face a large deficit of appropriately educated workers.
Focusing on college degree attainment is the proverbial tide that raises all boats. Organizations like CAEL (the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning) are making Herculean efforts to provide research, policy, and practical tools to legislators, educators, workforce developers, and workers to try to remove systemic barriers to completing a college degree. And this work is critical.
But not everyone needs to go to college or should go to college. Ask any plumber who can’t attract apprentices. Ask any car dealership that can’t find enough service mechanics. Ask any general contractor that can’t find enough licensed electricians.
When we ushered in the Information Age we ushered out the dignity and attractiveness of infrastructure jobs. Suddenly, if your job doesn’t require a college degree it isn’t worthy of your effort. Suddenly, being a plumber, a mason, a machinist, a mechanic, a bus driver, an HVAC specialist – are all beneath us. Suddenly, working with your brains and your hands makes you “less than.” And that’s a real problem.
We are not just facing a shortage of information workers. We are also facing a real shortage of people to make things and make things work. And that’s only half the problem. The other half is making those jobs worthy in the minds of the workforce.
Organizations like JAG (Jobs for America’s Graduates) are making enormous strides in keeping young people in high school through graduation – as well as making sure that planning and information for all career choices are available. Not every young person needs a four-year degree. But every young person does need a high school degree, and an awareness of job opportunities and the skills required across the full spectrum of occupations. They need support to determine what is right for them based on their interests and abilities. Assuming that jobs requiring both brains and hands are not worthy is bad policy, bad education, bad career planning, and bad for our competitiveness.
Certainly, the projected gap between the numbers of jobs that will require a college degree or better is alarming. But that point will be moot if the dearth of workers able and willing to take on the essential infrastructure of our nation also continues to rise. That’s why an equal push to get our high school students to stay in school and graduate is critical. That’s why a push to create vocational/technical tracks within our secondary education system is critical. That’s why a push to get high school graduates to continue on to apprenticeships, certificate programs and junior/community college programs are critical.
It’s true. A rising tide lifts all boats. But there are many kinds of boats. Let’s pay attention to all of them.