Headlines like this have been floating around:
“For The First Time Ever, A Majority Of Jobless Workers Over 25 Have Been To College”
I often see such headlines paired with arguments that people should consider avoiding going to college.
Many of these articles cite the same figure: 4.7 million out of the 9 million unemployed have graduated from or gone to college. Or. The word “or” is a big deal here. There’s a very big difference between people who finished college and people who start but don’t finish. Think about what it signals to a potential employer if you quit after two years at East Remedial State University.
According the BLS, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for people with at least a bachelor’s degree as of August 2013 is 3.5%. The seasonably adjusted unemployment rate for those with “some college or an associate’s degree” is 6.1%. I didn’t dig into the data more, but I expect you’d find that the unemployment rate for people with “some college” is significantly higher than for people with an associate’s degree. If you quit college without finishing, that signals to employers all sorts of bad things.
One might say, “Yes, but even on the BLS chart, note that about a fifth of all the unemployed people went to college. So a large number of the unemployed come from the ranks of college graduates.” Sure, but notice also that the labor force participation rates are dramatically different for college graduates (75.4%) vs people with less than a high school diploma (45%), a high school diploma (59%), or some college/associate’s degree (67%). That means that we have loads of uneducated people who aren’t working, but they don’t count as “unemployed” because they aren’t actively seeking employment. The number of unemployed college graduates is greater than the number of unemployed people with less than a high school diploma, but! over 70% of people with a college degree have a job, while only about 40% of people with less than a high school diploma do. (I’ll note here that Denmark, Finland, the UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Switzerland, all of which have freer economies than the US, also each have a better unemployment-to-population ratio.)
I’m not one to apologize for colleges–I’m largely in agreement with Bryan Caplan on this issue. I’m becoming more and more convinced that the majority of colleges do very little to educate the majority of students and that liberal arts education is predicated on a false theory of learning. I think there’s a good argument to be made for shutting down half of the universities in the US, drastically cutting spending on education, and spending the money on other things. (Not bombs or corn subsidies.) But, that all that said, for any individual who wants a job, my advice is go to college and get a degree in something impressive and difficult, like mathematics. (Notice I said “and” not “or”.)
Interesting perspective on the issue of unemployment among job-seeking college graduates.