"If we do not as a nation increase the number of graduates, then we risk the very foundation of the American dream." This is the remark that, at the end of January, Ohio State University President E. Gordon Gee made while leading an 18-member commission on making finishing college a national priority.
This is of particular concern to him with fewer than half of college students in his state graduating, and only 36% of working adults holding a degree. The commission released three ways for schools to increase their graduation rates, but is the degree still worth it? Our economy continues to struggle to create jobs making the value of degrees seem lower, as a result it is time we looked at the cost of secondary education to determine its true value.
When we take a closer look at numbers they tell conflicting stories. The first set of data points to the over valuing of a college degree. A recent study by The Center for College Affordability and Productivity shows a pretty grim story. According to the study, 48% of employed college graduates work in jobs that don't require a four-year degree, with 37% in jobs that require only a high school diploma and 11% in fields that require something between a high school diploma and a four-year degree. This doesn't speak well to the value of a degree.
The second set of data points to the importance of secondary education. The jobs with the highest level of education requirements are also experiencing the fastest employment gains. In fact they experienced a 6.7% gain between 2010 and 2012. When you take it a step further and compare the unemployment levels of higher education jobs and lower education jobs there is a clear difference. For example, telemarketers have an unemployment rate of 23.1% while nurse practitioners are at 0.9%.
With around five million college graduates working jobs requiring less than a high school education and student loan debt reaching the trillion dollar level, the cost and value of secondary education has to be called into question. However, with higher education jobs' having employment gains and lower unemployment levels there clearly is a benefit for staying in school. While these facts do contradict each other, they both highlight the need for making secondary education more affordable as the higher your education level the more student loan debt you have.
The numbers make it clear that our economy is struggling to create jobs for those without the highest levels of education. A simple solution would be for more students to stay in school longer so they qualify for those jobs. However, that oversaturation would eliminate the exclusiveness that has pushed their employment gains and lower unemployment rates.
Until our economy gets to the point where it can sustain the graduates seeking employment, the cost of college needs to be addressed. Otherwise, rising high school seniors may not see the value of massive student loan debt only to work jobs they already can do. Restoring the value of secondary education is how we can increase graduation rates and make the lives of college graduates less devalued until the economy fully recovers.