Guest Column

Four-year degrees are catalyst to economic rebound

May 10, 2013
| By Lou Glazer |
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We are constantly inundated with the storyline that we have a glut of four-year degree graduates who can’t find jobs and will be crushed by student loans they can’t pay off.

Instead, according to popular theory, what the economy needs are those with the equivalent of occupational certificates or associate degrees to fill so-called “mid-skill technical jobs.”

Don’t believe it!

The reality is clearly revealed in the two charts below. Both use data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The first was compiled by Catherine Rampell of the New York Times.

Since the start of the Great Recession it is those with a four-year degree or more that have seen employment increases. Those with some college (including occupational certificates and associate degrees) have seen no job gains. Those with a high school education or less have seen big job losses.

The end result is compelling and is portrayed in this “Education Pays” table from BLS.

It is clear that the higher the education attainment, the more you are employed and the more you earn. End of story.

It is true that there are job openings in some technical fields. And the need for technical workers, largely due to retirement and not new jobs, is likely to continue long term. Students interested in those careers should be encouraged and supported.

But today — and almost certainly tomorrow — the demand for those with four-year degrees or more will be the greatest. And because of that demand, those with four-year degrees or more will work more and earn more, year after year after year, over the typical career of 40 years or more.

There are no guarantees in a constantly changing labor market. But the best strategy — despite the constant drumbeat to the contrary — for doing well in an unstable labor market is a bachelor’s degree or more.

Lou Glazer is president of the think tank Michigan Future Inc.

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