College Degrees Have Graduated to Requirements in Today’s Job Market

Justifying the cost of a college education is getting harder and harder these days, with studies finding that many college students fail to graduate or don’t acquire the skills that will help them in the workforce, after taking on sometimes crippling levels of debt. But if young Americans increasingly can’t afford to go to college, a new study out of Georgetown makes clear that they really can’t afford not to. CNN Money’s Tami Luhby highlights the report’s key findings:

Of the 11.6 million jobs created after the Great Recession, 8.4 million went to those with at least a bachelor’s degree, according to a new report from the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University. Another 3 million went to those with associate’s degrees or some college education. …

Some 45% of Americans age 25 to 64 have an associate’s degree or higher, while 23% have at least a bachelor’s degree. Some 42% of young adults age 18 to 24 are enrolled in higher education. Americans with only high school diplomas represent a shrinking share of the workforce. This year, for the first time, college grads made up a larger slice of the labor market than those without higher education, by 36% to 34%, respectively. Until the early 80s, more than 70% of Americans entered the workforce right out of high school.

At the Washington Post, Danielle Douglas-Gabriel delves into more details:

Graduate degree holders gained 3.8 million jobs in the recovery, bachelor’s degree holders gained 4.6 million jobs and associate’s degree holders pulled in more than 3 million jobs, according to the report. Roughly 5.8 million high-skill jobs in the recovery are going to people with at least a bachelor’s degree, whereas low-skilled jobs are the only area of growth for workers with a high school diploma or less.

The recession laid waste to blue-collar and clerical jobs, shrinking a segment of the labor market that has been in decline for decades. Industries, such as manufacturing, construction and natural resources, moved from employing nearly half of the workforce in 1947 to just 19 percent in 2016, according to the report. Manufacturing added the second-highest number of jobs — 1.7 million — in the recovery, though the sector still has 1 million fewer jobs that it did before the recession began. Similarly, the construction sector, which added 834,000 jobs during the recovery, remains 1.6 million jobs short of its pre-recession numbers.

Office and administrative support positions, the largest occupational group in the American economy, lost 1.4 million jobs during the recession and recovery because of the rise in digital information storage and automation, the report said. These jobs were a primary source of work for people with limited education, which is why the disappearance of this work is hitting that population so hard, [the Georgetown Center’s director Anthony P.] Carnevale said.

This report underscores what a study from the job analytics firm Burning Glass concluded nearly two years ago: The college degree is the new high school diploma. Employers are now demanding bachelor’s degrees as a qualification for many positions once open to high school graduates, even when raising the requirements makes these positions harder to fill, Burning Glass found. In fact, the study showed that 75 percent of online job postings listed a bachelor’s degree as a requirement. If only 23 percent of American adults hold these precious degrees, such “up-credentialing” is sure to exclude many potential employees from the middle-skill job market.