College Graduates Exceed Demand

Article excerpt

By Louis Uchitelle N.Y. Times News Serice Hundreds of thousands of jobs, once performed creditably without a college degree, are increasingly going to college graduates, as employers take advantage of an oversupply.

They are found more and more among the nation's bakers, traveling sales people, secretaries, bookkeepers, clerks, data processors and factory foremen.

And they are shutting out qualified high school graduates from many jobs, according to U.S. Labor Department officials, corporate executives and economists.

Many jobs once relatively simple to perform have grown increasingly complex, in large part because of new technologies, but the more important reason for the trend toward collge graduates is that there are so many of them.

At roughly 25 percent of the work force - higher than in any other industrial nation - college graduates outstrip the demand for their skills, the Labor Department reports.

And the proportion of college graduates in the work force is continuing to increase.

Given this oversupply, many experts including the authors of a report on the American work force released Monday, say employers are reluctant to gamble on high school graduates.

In an age when public schools are accused of turning out many illiterates, corporate America has come to rely on the college degree as the safest guarantee an applicant has the skills, discipline and maturity to tackle a job.

``The college degree, or even the evidence of having participated in college, has become the nation's major form of job certification,'' said William B. Johnston, a senior research fellow at the Hudson Institute.

``It is a rather expensive and extravagant sorting mechanism, to send people off to schools to learn skills that might not be necessary for work, but it is all that we have right now,'' he said.

The trend has devalued both the college and the high school degree, particularly eroding the value of the high school degree, which has helped to open a huge gap between the incomes of the college educated and the high school educated.

Many recent studies show the standard of living of the high school graduate fell in the 1980s for the first time since World War II, while the college graduates' standard of living, or real wage, rose by nearly 8 percent.

No other industrial nation has such a wide wage gap between the two groups.

That wage gap has helped to spur more high school graduates to go to college.

For decades only 50 percent had continued education after high school, but since 1982 the number has risen precipitously to nearly 59 percent - assuring the nation of a plentiful supply of college graduates for its job needs into the 21st century, according to Labor Department projections.

Russell Rumberger, a professor of education at the University of California at Santa Barbara estimates the pool of college graduates exceeds by about 15 percent the need for their skills in professions that require college training, among them engineering, accounting, law and medicine.

The wage inequity and the growing preference for college graduates have prompted new studies to determine what qualifications high school educated Americans, dropouts and graduates possess.

Some case studies, among them several presented at a conference of labor economists and social scientists at Brown University this month, found many uneducated workers can quickly acquire the necessary skills to man even the most modern and sophisticated factories.

If those workers succeed, then the prospect of a drastic shortage of skilled workers may be far less realistic than many had thought.

``It is pretty consistently the finding of researchers that the training process in state-of-the-art factories, with the most advanced technologies, is not that complicated,'' said Professor Clair Brown, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley, and coauthor of studies involving half-a-dozen major companies. …