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More than half of college graduates are working in jobs that don’t require degrees

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Is college still worth it? A financial advisor’s take


Is college still worth it? A financial advisor’s take

04:13

More than half of Americans who earned college diplomas find themselves working in jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree or utilize the skills acquired in obtaining one. What’s worse, they can get stuck there for the entirety of their careers.

If a graduate’s first job is in a low-paying field or out-of-line with a worker’s interests, it could pigeonhole them into an undesirable role or industry that’s hard to escape, according to a new study from The Burning Glass Institute and the Strada Institute for the Future of Work. The findings come as more Americans question the eroding value of a college degree, and as more employers are dropping higher education degree requirements altogether.

“What we found is that even in a red-hot economy, half of graduates are winding up in jobs they didn’t need to go to college to get,” Burning Glass CEO Matt Sigelman told CBS MoneyWatch. Examples of jobs that don’t require college-level skills include roles in the retail, hospitality and manufacturing sectors, according to Sigelman. 

Another study from the HEA Group found that a decade after enrolling in college, attendees of 1 in 4 higher education programs are earning less than $32,000 — the median annual income for high school graduates.

Choice of major matters

A college degree, in itself, is not a ticket to a higher-paying job, the study shows. 

“Getting a college degree is viewed as the ticket to the American dream,” said Sigelman, “and it turns out that it’s a bust for half of students.” 


A look at the highest and lowest paying college majors

05:08

The single greatest determinant of post-graduation employment prospects, according to the study, is a college student’s major, or primary focus of study. It can be even more important than the type of institution one attends.

Choosing a career-oriented major like nursing, as opposed to criminal justice, gives graduates a better shot at actually using, and getting compensated for the skills they acquire. Just 23% of nursing students are underemployed, versus 68% of criminal justice majors. However, focusing on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects is not a guarantee of college-level employment and high wages, the study found. 

Internships, relevant experience helps

There are also other ways to boost one’s shot at a fruitful career that makes a college degree a worthy investment. For example, securing an internship while pursuing one’s undergraduate studies reduces the risk of underemployment by almost 50%. 

“In addition to what you chose to study, having an internship is really needle-moving in terms of your likelihood of landing into the kind of job you went to school to get,” Sigelman said. 

Sticking to jobs within the field in which you want to work also increases your chances of eventually getting a high paid position. Upward mobility is tricky if you start your career on the wrong foot. 

Many college graduates remain underemployed even 10 years after college, the study found. That may be because employers seeking college-level skills also tend to focus on job candidates’ recent work experience, placing more emphasis on the latest jobs held by candidates who have spent years in the workforce, versus a degree that was earned a decade prior. 

“If you come out of school and work for a couple of years as waiter in a restaurant and apply for a college-level job, the employer will look at that work experience and not see relevance,” Sigelman said. 

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