Monday, February 18, 2008

College Education No Silver Bullet for Lagging Pay

Here's an interesting editorial from the Treasure Coast Palm, a Florida newspaper, questioning whether college education is really the jobs panacea that it's cracked up to be. Other public policies to increase job opportunities for educated workers, and to boost the lagging incomes of service sector workers.

For all the talk about college being crucial to gainful employment in today’s society, the Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that bachelor’s degrees are no antidote to outsourcing, underemployment and lagging pay. Among 40 occupations on the BLS’ watch list for likely outsourcing are computer programmers, aerospace engineers and microbiologists. Meantime, blue-collar trades people — from truck drivers to plumbers to electricians — are perpetually in demand. And none of these fields requires post-secondary degrees.

Even the education sector itself reflects this dichotomy. Indian River County School district, for example, hired an audio-visual coordinator fresh out of high school and paid him $15,000 more than a beginning teacher with a master’s degree.

None of this is to suggest that higher education isn’t important for the knowledge it imparts. A college degree can enrich life and, in some fields, ensure upward mobility.

But Paul Barton, a senior associate at the Educational Testing Service, poses a provocative question in the title of his report: “How many college graduates does the U.S. labor force really need?”

Barton turns statistical conventions on their head by counting the number of college-educated workers in jobs that do not require such degrees. He found that 60 percent of people in existing jobs have “some college” or post-secondary credential — yet only one in three jobs requires that level of education.

This phenomenon is pervasive in Florida, where service-industry jobs abound. In an article last year, the Orlando Sentinel reported that “a rise in college attendance coupled with downsizing, outsourcing and a shortage of high-paying jobs is bolstering the ranks of the educated poor — people with college degrees who don’t earn above the national poverty line."

Read more at: Bachelor’s degrees not always key to success as outsourcing and lagging pay take their toll - Treasure Coast Palm, Vero Beach/Ft. Pierce Florida, 2/6/08

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