Half of College Grads Are Working Jobs That Don't Require a Degree

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As the mother of a child who is finishing his junior year in high school, I am, like many parents in my shoes, in the throes of anxiety about where my son will go to college in 2015. Occasionally, between obsessing about his slipping grades in pre-calculus and Spanish and trying to figure out whether a school like University of Chicago should be on our “target” or “reach” list, I get a fleeting but deep pit in my stomach about a much more serious issue: where, and more importantly if, he will find a job when he finally gets his degree.

Then last week I received a report from consulting firm McKinsey, done together with student website Chegg, which is making that pit in my stomach deeper. In October and November of last year McKinsey surveyed 4,900 former Chegg customers, a mix of young people who went to private, public, vocational and for-profit institutions. The findings are truly sobering. Nearly half of grads from four-year colleges are working in jobs that don’t require a four-year degree. A striking sub-fact: grads from public universities are 11% more likely to feel overqualified than those who went to private schools. I would have thought it would be the other way around.  The study cites a Bureau of Labor Statistics number that underlines the McKinsey findings: 48% of employed U.S. college grads are in jobs that require less than a four-year degree.

Even more chilling than those numbers is a figure I read some time ago that I can’t get out of my head: In 2011, 1.5 million, or 53.6% of college grads under age 25 were out of work or underemployed, according to a 2012 Associated Press story that used an analysis of the U.S. government’s 2011 Current Population Survey data by Northeastern University researchers, plus material from Drexel University economist  Paul Harrington, and analysis from liberal Washington, D.C. think tank, the Economic Policy Institute.

If only my son were a STEM kid, meaning that he were interested in science, technology, engineering or math. The McKinsey study says that 75% of those grads are in jobs requiring a four-year degree. Instead my child will be at the bottom of the bar graph, just two slots up from visual and performing arts, where only 43% are in jobs requiring a four-year degree. He is likely to graduate with a social science degree, where only 54% have jobs that require a four-year diploma.

Another frightening statistic from the McKinsey report: A third of grads don’t feel that college prepared them well for the world of work. Again, the visual and performing arts students are faring the worst: 42% feel that college didn’t prep them for employment, followed closely by social science grads, at 36%.

But thank goodness for one ray of light in this study: 77% of graduates of the top 100 four-year programs (based on the U.S. News and World Report rankings) who worked part-time, did internships or employee mentorships felt prepared for work, compared with 59% who lacked such experience. Still, they may have felt prepared but it’s not clear they got hired. An Accenture poll I wrote about earlier this month shows that while 72% of 2011/2012 grads had done internships, only 42% said the internships led to jobs.

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