Today’s SEO-pandering post is sponsored by Robert Samuelson, who wrote an editorial titled, “It’s Time U.S. Dropped the College-for-All Crusade.” I’m linking to the Japan Times syndicated piece because I’m fond of that publication. He writes:
“At last count, roughly 40 percent of Americans had some sort of college degree: about 30 percent a bachelor’s degree from a four-year institution; the rest associate degrees from community colleges.”
Samuelson’s misreading the numbers. There are two good sources of U.S. population by educational attainment: the Current Population Survey and the beleaguered American Community Survey (S1501), and their college-educated percentages total 39 percent and 36 percent, respectively. Out of the national population, the share of college-educated Americans is significantly less than 40 percent because both surveys exclude people under 25 and (for the sake of usefulness) include older, retired Americans:
Next, there are two sources of employment by education data, the Current Population Survey, again, and the BLS’s Employment Projections Program (XLS). The EPP, which we’ll stick with for its detail, distributes the employed population along these lines:
Comparing the CPS to itself, and the EPP to the ACS, here’re the employment-population ratios.
For some reason, the CPS found 20 million fewer employed Americans 25 and over than the EPP did in 2010: 122 million vs. 143 million. Note also that the Bachelor’s and higher crowd isn’t suffering from 30 percent unemployment, it’s just that growing proportions of Americans who are retiring happen to be college educated, and many more are out of the workforce for other reasons, e.g. homemakers.
As for the value of the sanctified four-year Bachelor’s degree? Using the EPP data above, here’re the types of jobs that employed BA/BS holders had by required qualifications:
“Postsecondary Non-BA/BS Jobs” includes jobs requiring an Associate’s degree (e.g. nurses (whom we’ll see plenty of today)), “some college no degree” (actors), or a “postsecondary non-degree award” (airplane pilots). So are only 40 percent of BA/BS holders in jobs at their qualification level or better? A few thoughts:
(2) This is 2010. There were a lot of underemployed people due to the housing bubble popping, to say nothing of those who are actually unemployed.
(3) There are a lot of people over 24 years old, and many’ve lived unusual lives. Some of them might have gotten their return from their college degrees years ago and are simply doing jobs that are more comfortable for them. I doubt it’s many, but it’s some.
(4) Some of these people might be students working part-time.
Still, 16 million out-of-position BA/BS’s is a lot, and this comes on top of the 31.6 million Americans who went to college yet have no degree whatsoever to show for it. That’s a pretty severe indictment of higher education right there.
Now to give you some SEOy fun: “Top 10 Non-BA/BS Jobs Held by BA/BS-Holders in 2010,” unsorted because I don’t want to bother resorting my spreadsheet:
These sum to about a third of those 16 million workers, and it largely discredits the would-you-like-fries-with-that liberal arts major jokes (“Combined Food Preparation and Serving Workers, Including Fast Food” is further down at 126,000). More likely, they’re working at Old Navy or they went to nursing school.
And what of those who hold Doctoral/Professional degrees, e.g. the juris doctor?
Doctoral and professional degrees are required for 25 job classes, the vast majority of which require a science or medical background. Here’s the list:
- Computer and Information Research Scientists
- Animal Scientists
- Biochemists and Biophysicists
- Biological Scientists, All Other
- Medical Scientists, Except Epidemiologists
- Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists
- Judicial Law Clerks
- Judges, Magistrate Judges, and Magistrates
- Postsecondary Teachers
- Dentists, General
- Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons
- Dentists, All Other Specialists
- Physicians and Surgeons
- Physical Therapists
If law degrees are versatile, it ain’t for jobs requiring doctoral or professional educations, as far as the BLS is concerned, and unless there’s a supplemental knowledge prerequisite for employment.
Of the 2.8 million doctoral and professional degree workers employed in jobs requiring their educations, 702,710 are lawyers (out of 728,200), 1,190 are judicial law clerks (29,800(!)), and 32,810 are judges (34,000). That’s 26 percent of the 2.8 million-person blue-blob in the last chart. Incidentally, the BLS managed to find 730 lawyers who never finished high school and another 730 who did but had no education beyond that. 24,030 lawyers have only a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree. These non-JD lawyers are probably mostly in California.
The good news is that most workers with doctorates and professional degrees don’t end up doing work that never required them to set foot outside of high school (the three percent “End of All Things” category in the chart above), but undoubtedly the non-blue chunk in the chart contains a good number of people with juris doctors. Here’s their Google-pandering top 10 list:
This amounts to 23 percent of that non-blue chunk. Some of these are more understandable than others, e.g. clergy.
So, I’m going to quit my job and this blog to start writing my network sit-com pitch now: Nurse, J.D.…