Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

Reconciling Conflicting Data on Jobs for College Graduates

Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

Reconciling Conflicting Data on Jobs for College Graduates

Article excerpt

Since the early 1970's, the data suggest a growing proportion of college graduates are in jobs that usually do not require at least a bachelor's degree. Bureau of Labor Statistics analysis of data related to the employment of college graduates indicates that there are more jobseekers with college degrees than there are openings in jobs requiring a degree. (1) News reports and surveys by government agencies and private organizations on the employment patterns of recent college graduates support this conclusion. BLS projects that this divergence will continue through 2005.(2)

In contrast to this apparent mismatch of jobs and jobseekers, articles in research and popular journals in recent years have pointed out that since 1979, earnings of college graduates have increased sharply relative to eamings of high school graduates. Some analysts have interpreted this to mean that employers were forced to bid up the wages of college graduates in order to fill vacant jobs--an action likely to occur only when there is a shortage of graduates.

Analysis of earnings data by educational level clearly confirm a sharp rise in earnings for college graduates relative to those of high school graduates during the 1980's. However, this article concludes that the relative earnings increase for college graduates was the result of a worsening job market for male high school graduates, not because of a shortage of workers with college degrees.

Identifying 'college-level' jobs

It is not possible to precisely identify and measure the number of jobs that require a college degree. Standards of which jobs require a degree differ among employers, and ideas of what constitutes a "college-level" job also differ among employers, employees, and others. More important, occupational classification systems do not neatly distinguish between jobs that require a college degree and other jobs. However, surveys that asked workers what level of education they needed to qualify for their current jobs(3( indicate that most jobs in retail sales; administrative support, including clerical; service; farm; precision production, craft, and repair; and operator, fabricator, and laborer occupational groups do not require a degree for entry, nor do they offer job duties attractive to most graduates. In contrast, the surveys show that most jobs in managerial, professional specialty, sales representative, and many technician occupations require a degree. These jobs involve specific skills (for example, the skills necessary to perform engineering and accounting tasks) or, at least, general analytic and communications skills typically learned in college. More important, employers generally recruit or, at a minimum, apparently prefer college graduates for these occupations. Some exceptions are jobs such as managers of small retail, repair, construction, or cleaning service establishments, construction inspectors, orphotographers--ccupations for which on-the-job training or 1 or 2 years of education in a technical school or college is generally considered adequate preparation. Employers often seek college graduates for some jobs within occupations that generally do not require a degree. For example, employers may require some insurance adjusters and investigators (from the administrative support occupational group), craftworker supervisors (from the precision production, craft, and repair group), police officers (service occupational group), and farm managers (farm group) to have a degree. Still, other occupations fall in a "gray area"--occupations within the professional, managerial, sales representative, and technician occupational groups, including professional athletes, musicians, construction managers, and manufacturers' sales representatives-and traditionally have been filled by both graduates and nongraduates.

Taking these exceptions into account to identify jobs that do not require a degree would entail numerous arbitrary judgments. …

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