Nearly Half of US College Graduates Working High-School Level Jobs, Survey Finds
Nearly Half of US College Graduates Working High-School Level Jobs, Survey Finds

By Patricia Tolson

A new study confirms that almost half of America’s college graduates are working at high-school-level jobs.

The study, published Feb. 22, also found that 52 percent of college graduates are underemployed a year after graduation.

The study, a collaborative effort by Burning Glass Institute and Strada Institute for the Future of Work, confirmed the trend reported in other studies, that employers are increasingly turning to factors other than college degrees to determine competency.

While most see college degrees as “a bridge to economic opportunity and upward mobility,” the study said that “some are calling into question whether higher education is delivering on that promise.”

Despite what is seen statistically as a robust labor market, the study confirmed that 52 percent of college graduates are underemployed a year after graduation. Even 10 years after graduation, 45 percent of college graduates remain underemployed.

Graduates who enter the labor market with a college-level job are said to “rarely slide into underemployment, as 79 percent of them maintain a college-level job for five years after graduation. Of those who remained employed in college-level occupations for five years after graduation, 86 percent remained in a college-level job for a decade.

Conversely, 73 percent of college graduates who enter the labor market underemployed stay that way for 10 years.

Then there’s the cost-to-degree and degree-to-job ratio.

A June 2023 analysis by Campus shows that an associate degree costs about $11,600 per year, including room and board, for a full-time student. That’s $23,200 for this two-year degree.

The average yearly cost to attend a four-year public college or university with room and board was $21,035. That’s $84,140 for a bachelor’s degree.

The latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the median annual salary of someone with an associate degree is $48,240. For those with a bachelor’s degree, it’s $68,736.

For a bachelor’s degree, data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that business degrees are the number one major (19 percent) among today’s college students. Data compiled by Coursera shows that the median annual salary for someone with a bachelor’s degree in business is $65,000.

The second most popular degree is listed simply as “Health,” which ranked at 13 percent.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the median salary for a bachelor’s degree in the health care industry is between $51,330 and $128,790. The third most popular degrees are in social sciences and history (8 percent).

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the typical salary for someone with a bachelor’s degree in social sciences and history is around $64,540.

Another consideration is whether the graduate can find a job that covers the cost of their student loan payments.

According to Bankrate, the current interest rate for federal student loans for undergraduates is 5.50 percent. Graduate students pay 7.05 percent or 8.05 percent for unsubsidized loans.

According to the student loan calculator by Smart Asset, the average debt for a student loan is $28,400. At the current interest rate, monthly payments for a 10-year payoff period are $308.

Degrees Versus Skills

Julie Lammers, senior vice president of advocacy and corporate social responsibility at American Student Assistance (ASA) believes this is further proof that college degrees are not as valuable to the typical college student as they are being led to believe.

She cited a September 2022 survey conducted by ASA and Jobs for the Future that found that employers are seeing less value in a bachelor’s degree.

“In fact, 72 percent of surveyed employers said that they found a bachelor’s degree to be an unreliable way of assessing the quality of a candidate and are looking for ways to better evaluate the actual skills of a prospective employee rather than a degree type,” she told The Epoch Times.

Moreover, she said a November 2023 study by ASA showed that 71 percent of young people in non-degree pathway programs “perceive that they are workforce ready.”

Asked if the degrees college students are pursuing contribute to their state of underemployment and their inability to find jobs that will provide sufficient income enough to cover the cost of obtaining the degree. Ms. Lammers said this wasn’t “universally true.”

“What we do know is that many young people are pursuing degrees that are not aligned to long-term career goals because they have never had the chance to explore and test and try career interests prior to making choices about postsecondary education,” she explained. “The lack of planning, and the fact that many young people are not aligning postsecondary education to prepare them for a chosen career contributes to this underemployment and struggle in the job market.”

Ms. Lammers also said that ASA believes it’s critical for young people who want jobs that lead to economic prosperity to get more exposure to the working world at an earlier age.

“Not only does this allow a young person to build skills and a career identity, but it allows them to start building the social capital that can lead to long-term career success,” she said. “When young people have exposure to work at an earlier age through opportunities like internships and entrepreneurial experiences, they can begin to build these professional networks and the skills that employers say they desperately need but aren’t seeing when just looking for a degree.”

Ms. Lammers also said it’s important to note that what employers say they want most in employees are “durable skills,” a set of professional capabilities like teamwork, problem-solving, critical thinking, and flexibility, which are essential in almost every job.

“It is these durable skills that are desperately desired by employers,” Ms. Lammers said, citing a study by America Succeeds that found 70 percent of the most requested skills in nearly 82 million job postings are Durable Skills.

“These are the skills employers are looking for on resumes,” she said, “Not just a degree.”

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