Is a College Degree Still Worth it?

As U.S. employment patterns evolve, a diploma is no longer a guarantee of a better job and higher pay.

Don Lee
Los Angeles Times

As the warm glow of college commencement ceremonies gives way to the cold reality of today’s job market, this year’s graduates and their anxious parents might be tempted to wonder whether it was worth it.

After spending tens of thousands of dollars on higher education, often taking on huge debts along the way, many face a job market that doesn’t seem to need them. Not only is the American economy producing few new jobs of any kind, but the ones that are being added are overwhelmingly on the lower end of the skill and pay scale.

In fact, government surveys indicate that the vast majority of job gains this year have gone to workers with only a high school education or less, casting some doubt on one of the nation’s most deeply held convictions: that a college education is the ticket to the American Dream.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that seven of the 10 employment sectors that will see the largest gains over the next decade won’t require much more than some on-the-job training. These include home healthcare aides, customer service representatives and food preparers and servers. Meanwhile, well-paying white-collar jobs such as computer programming have become vulnerable to outsourcing to foreign countries.

“People with bachelor’s degrees will increasingly get not very highly satisfactory jobs,” said W. Norton Grubb, a professor at UC Berkeley’s School of Education. “In that sense, people are getting more schooling than jobs are available.”

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