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