Phi Beta Cons

Jobs Data Don’t Prove College Is Worth the Cost

After January’s federal jobs report showed that the unemployment rate for college degree holders is 2.8% (compared to the overall unemployment rate of 5.7%), Paul Fain wrote a piece for Inside Higher Ed saying, “Doubts about the labor market returns of bachelor’s degree, while never serious, can be put to rest.” 

But does this data prove that college’s return on investment is large enough to justify the tuition costs and opportunity costs borne by those pursuing degrees?

“Absolutely not,” writes George Leef in this week’s Pope Center Clarion Call. “Simply being employed in some job doesn’t mean that a college graduate is receiving any added compensation – any ‘return’ on his degree. Many graduates are working in jobs where their education is mostly if not entirely irrelevant.” 

Leef says that the glut of degree holders has exacerbated the underemployment problem – for both college graduates and those without degrees.

“All that the favorable job statistics for college graduates tell us is that having a degree positions you better in the job market compared with people who do not have those credentials. Many employers who need workers for jobs that require only basic abilities and a decent attitude now screen out people who don’t have college degrees. Companies looking to hire for positions such as sales supervisor and rental car agent, for instance, often state that they’ll only consider applicants who’ve graduated from college. What they studied or how well they did is largely beside the point,” writes Leef. 

Jesse Saffron — Jesse Saffron is a writer and editor for the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, a North Carolina-based think tank dedicated to improving higher education in the Tar ...

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