It's not just the economy, stupid
Conventional wisdom tells us that the U.S. economy demands gobs more workers with bachelor's degrees. Veteran analyst and all-around-smart-guy Paul Barton thinks that this conventional wisdom is wrong and that the demand for college graduates is overstated. When one examines "the projected increase in the number of jobs in the 10 fastest-growing occupations," he writes, "61 percent of those new jobs will not require college and 39 percent will." Furthermore, "demand for college graduates is also overstated when whatever percentage of the workforce that has gone to college is equated with the percentage of jobs that require college-level learning." (Italics in original.) The truth, it seems, is that a significant number of college-educated workers are taking positions that don't actually necessitate a university diploma. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, of those with bachelor's degrees who are not enrolled in graduate school, 40 percent say they are working in a job that doesn't require a college education. Still, one may reasonably take issue with Barton's implication that we shouldn't be encouraging so many students to head to campus. A quality higher education (no small qualification there) can open worlds of learning to students that will enhance their enjoyment of life and enable greater contributions as democratic citizens. And if high-school diplomas actually meant something, probably conventional wisdom would be less likely to demand college diplomas. But Barton may be right that basing the case for universal higher education on America's economic needs just doesn't add up.
"How Many College Graduates Does the U.S. Labor Force Really Need?," by Paul Barton, Change Magazine, January/February 2008