Report Argues Supply of College Grads Outpaces Demand

By Caralee J. Adams — January 29, 2013 2 min read
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Nearly half of recent college graduates are underemployed, holding jobs that require less than a four-year college degree, according to a new study by Richard Vedder, Christopher Denhart, and Jonathan Robe of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, a not-for-profit research center on higher education issues in Washington.

“While there are undoubtedly many who benefit, even quite substantially economically, from higher education, a not inconsequential number of Americans who obtain higher education do not achieve the economic gains traditionally accompanying the acquisition of college-level credentials,” the report released Jan. 28 says.

The authors suggest a disconnect between what employers need and the volume and nature of college training of students. The basic problem is that the stock of college graduates is far greater than the number of jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree or more. The number of college graduates is expected to grow by 19 million by 2020, while the number of jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree is expected to grow by fewer than 7 million, the according to the report.

The researchers argue that the country may well be “over-invested” in higher education since many jobs have not changed in nature much over time. In some job categories that have not typically required a degree, recent college graduates are effectively crowding out those with lesser education for jobs, the report says.

Other economic analyses have emphasized the need for skilled workers with college degrees to fill the jobs of the future. By 2018, the U.S. will need 22 million new workers with college degrees—but will fall short of that number by at least 3 million postsecondary degrees, according to research from the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce. The Center has also published studies showing the considerable financial advantage in lifetime earnings for four-year college graduates, as well as two-year degrees or certificates, compared to those with just a high school degree. And recent college grads fared better in the employment market following the recent economic downturn, Georgetown researchers found.

The CCAP report says there is a tendency, sometimes, to give higher education credit where it is not due.

“The students attending college are on average brighter, more disciplined, and probably more creative than high-school graduates who do not go on to school,” it says. “A good bit of the productivity/earnings advantage of college graduates is probably related to human personality traits not directly tied to college education.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the College Bound blog.