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Look for ‘real world’ value when picking college degree, experts say

Experts responded to report finding college grads working in jobs that do not require degree

Half of recent college graduates are working in jobs that do not require their degree, a report found.

But several higher education experts told The College Fix there are ways for current college students to avoid being part of this number.

The Burning Glass Institute and the Strada Education Foundation found the primary indicator is a student’s choice of academic major.

The Burning Glass-Strada report highlights that post-graduation, many individuals are likely to find themselves “underemployed,” working in positions that typically don’t necessitate a bachelor’s degree and offer compensation below that of their peers with college-level jobs.

“Among workers who have earned a bachelor’s degree, only about half secure employment in a college-level job within a year of graduation, and the other half are underemployed,” the report found.

“Graduates with degrees in fields with more quantitative rigor have greater odds of securing college-level jobs than their peers,” the report stated. This includes majors such as STEM, and math-intensive business disciplines as opposed to the liberal arts and humanities.

Economist Richard Vedder told The Fix that the report’s findings are “consistent with other evidence that has developed over the years.” Vedder’s research is cited in the report.

“I’ve calculated statistics for majors at Columbia University, and I found that there are some majors who right after graduation are making $20-$25,000 a year,” Vedder said. These were generally amongst fine arts majors, and disciplines “that are kind of popular among ‘woke-ish’ college kids, but are not much in demand in the real world.”

Students should be provided data by their institution on the average earnings and job prospects associated with their desired major, according to Preston Cooper with the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity

Cooper referenced a bill proposed by Representatives Virginia Foxx and Lisa McClain that would require colleges to provide transparency when it comes to the cost and financing of education.

“Students should be aware that a four-year college degree by itself is not a surefire ticket to a good middle-class job,” Cooper told The Fix. “It’s also important for students to choose a major with good job opportunities, attend an institution with a good track record of job placement, and take action while in college to improve their employability.”

Cooper also directed The Fix to his Forbes article analyzing the report.

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A business professor provided her insights on the benefits of college and how students can leverage this for unemployment.

“An overlooked benefit of college is that colleges can serve as a backward linkage for organizations hoping to obtain competent employees,” Kimberlee Josephson, associate business professor at Lebanon Valley College, said via email. “Colleges can not only educate students, but they can establish career connections,”

Vedder, the economist, says universities should redirect money to worthwhile programs.

The Burning Glass-Strada report reveals that one year post-graduation, 52 percent of graduates are “underemployed”. Even after a decade, 45 percent of graduates experience underemployment.

“[E]arnings of underemployed graduates are substantially closer to those without a degree than they are to peers employed in college-level jobs” the report states.

“It’s a substantial risk,” Vedder said. “Universities could see this data and say, in order to serve society better and our students better and put more resources into these areas where there are high paying jobs.”

Vedder suggests institutions should allocate spending on programs that yield higher rates of collegiate-level employment rather than funding departments such as “gender studies and diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

Josephson, the Pennsylvania professor, said “it is important to point out that there are a large number of middle-skilled positions that do not require a four-year education and have salaries that are quite attractive.”

“For some students, a trade school may certainly be a better option,” she said.

“College should be seen as an opportunity for advancing oneself, not a guarantor of it.”

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Emma Arns is a student at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville where she is studying business and political science. She is involved with College Republicans and serves as secretary of her school's TPUSA chapter. She also writes and reports for Campus Reform.