"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Friday, August 31, 2012

The Enduring Myth of College Degree Protection

If you just got through paying for the first semester of college, you may not want to read this article.

The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce published a study last week that broke down the impact of a college degree on future employment. The conclusion: Those with a bachelors degree show some advantage over those with just a high school diploma, but most of the job gains are found with those who have advanced degrees.  The Atlantic said it this way, "We are in a grad school economy."

The Washington Post's Dylan Matthews looked at the GCEW study and found that they lumped together those with a regular bachelors degree and those with advanced degrees to come up with this chart.

In addition, Matthews sites an analysis done by the Economic Policy Institute that showed 98.3 percent of the job gains in that combined group went to the advanced degree holders. Lawrence Mishel of EPI said of the GCEW report, "... the report does not address the effect of education on the amount of job losses and gains in the economy. What it does address is how the limited number of jobs available in the recovery was allocated to people with differing education levels."

This chart from EPI shows that have bachelors holders have suffered much worse joblessness than normal during the recovery. With an unemployment rate of 4.1 percent they are doing better than high school diploma holders, but still worse than they were prior to the recession.

Both Democrat and Republican candidates are now touting the benefit of a college education and want to see more high school grads go into college. But the fact that the college talent pool did not quickly get picked up during the recession shows that there is already an abundant supply of them in the labor market. Having more people with degrees is not going to change that dynamic and could actually work to depress wages for those degree holders.

The hard thing for some people to grasp is that the economy has the greatest impact on the number of jobs and a degree does not necessarily shield you from that impact. Mishel puts it this way, "[W]hen the financial crisis hit and the housing bubble burst, there was a major decline in the demand for goods and services and therefore, employers responded by producing fewer goods and services and laying off staff and cutting back on hiring. Even if  everyone working in construction in 2007 had a college degree construction employers  would still have radically cut back employment."

In the  New York Times August 25, 2012, they quote the Associated Press:
“About 1.5 million, or 53.6 percent, of bachelor’s degree-holders under the age of 25 last year were jobless or underemployed, the highest share in at least 11 years. In 2000, the share was at a low of 41 percent, before the dot-com bust erased job gains for college graduates in the telecommunications and IT fields.

“Broken down by occupation, young college graduates were heavily represented in jobs that require a high school diploma or less.

“In the last year, they were more likely to be employed as waiters, waitresses, bartenders and food-service helpers than as engineers, physicists, chemists and mathematicians combined (100,000 versus 90,000). There were more working in office-related jobs such as receptionist or payroll clerk than in all computer professional jobs (163,000 versus 100,000). More also were employed as cashiers, retail clerks and customer representatives than engineers (125,000 versus 80,000).
“According to government projections released last month, only three of the 30 occupations with the largest projected number of job openings by 2020 will require a bachelor’s degree or higher to fill the position — teachers, college professors and accountants. Most job openings are in professions such as retail sales, fast food and truck driving, jobs which aren’t easily replaced by computers.”

A college degree used to be your ticket into a secure well paying job. The numbers just don't show that to be the case anymore. 

Technology has certainly affected the market, automating many jobs that the relatively unskilled labor pool used to do. Technology is also advancing exponentially. The existence of a given technology today allows for the creation of many new forms technology tomorrow that could not have been thought of before. There is no perceivable end to this expansion which means that the potential for technology to start taking over jobs of those with college degrees is also rising.  Technology, starting with the wheel, has been a means for relieving man of the burden of providing for his own existence. Every invention, from the phone which meant you didn't have to physically be in the presence of the person you wanted to communicate with, to the dishwasher has freed up time for mankind to pursue other goals.

It has been, and I believe always will be, the realm of the dreamers to come up with those new pursuits that will fill the newfound time. The current trend in employment seems to support that the future will still be dominated by the dreamers, those who can plumb the depths of current knowledge and find something new and valuable: the masters, the Phd candidates. The mantra of education preparing students for; a) the workforce of tomorrow, b) the economic engine of the state or c) the global economy assumes that we have a clear vision of where those jobs are going to be and where technology is going to take us. Those pushing Common Core take for granted that we know what that knowledge base and skill set needs to be. That's a risky assumption.

If our education system is to produce many successful people, it would appear that they need to focus on teaching people how to be one of those dreamers.

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