College & Workforce Readiness

Lack of College-Educated Workers Will Hurt Economy

By Caralee J. Adams — July 14, 2011 2 min read
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For 30 years, the United States has not been producing enough college graduates to keep up with the workforce demand, experts tell us. And as a result, the country is losing its edge as an economic world leader, and the income gaps between those with a college education and those without are widening.

To turn things around, the country needs 20 million people to have some postsecondary education by 2025, according to “The Undereducated American,” a report by Anthony Carnevale and Stephen Rose of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

This means 15 million would hold bachelor’s degrees; 1 million would hold associate degrees; and 4 million would have attended some college, but earned no degree. At that level, 75 percent of the workforce would have at least one year of postsecondary education. That would be a big increase from the current pace, which would lead to 65 percent of the labor force with at least some college by 2025.

If the goal was met, 55 percent of American workers would have at least an associate degree, compared with 42 percent today. Among the youngest age group, 60 percent of workers would have an associate or bachelor’s degree, compared with the 42 percent who had a college degree in 2005.

The report maintains that the ramped-up education efforts are needed to provide companies with the high-skilled workforce to be more productive and competitive. Meeting this higher education goal could potentially boost the gross domestic product by $500 billion and add $100 billion in additional tax revenues, the report says. The other dilemma that education would address is the widening chasm in earning between high school graduates and college-educated Americans, who earn on average 74 percent more.

The new report projects that if demand for educated workers grows at a faster rate than supply for 15 years, the wage gap between having a bachelor’s degree and high school diploma will rise to 96 percent. To meet the demand for more skilled workers and to reduce inequality, the number of young people attending college will need to rise from 66 percent today to 86 percent by 2025, it says.

This call from Georgetown researchers comes on top of President Obama’s goal set in 2010 of producing 5 million additional college degrees by 2020 and the Lumina Foundation’s “Big Goal” to increase the proportion of Americans with high-quality degrees and credentials to 60 percent by the year 2025. (The Lumina Foundation underwrites coverage of related subjects in Education Week.)

As one encouragement for Americans to focus attention on getting a college education, the researchers point out that postsecondary education has historically been one of the safest long-term investments in the economy. Georgetown issued a report in May outlining the lifetime-earnings benefits of having a college education by major.

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