The Value of a College Degree

March 21, 2011  |  

(Businessweek) — The message of the Great Recession and anemic recovery is that postsecondary education—from a certificate at a community college to an advanced degree—is more valuable than ever. The concern among the necktie set about widespread job insecurity from the twin pincers of globalization and information technologies is real. But the data suggest the dire conclusions are exaggerated, with the share of jobs in the U.S. economy requiring postsecondary education up from 28 percent in 1973 to 59 percent in 2008. Over the next decade that share could increase to 63 percent, estimate scholars at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. “Step back for a minute,” says Terry Fitzgerald, senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. “If I am talking to a 17-year-old, am I really going to tell her, ‘Don’t go to college?’ No.”  Yes, it has been a rough decade for college-educated workers. The real earnings of young college graduates have stagnated. The job market has been inhospitable to newly minted graduates since the recession started in 2007, and economic research suggests an initial income hit for workers just starting out continues to exert a downward influence on their wages 15 years later. Routine white-collar jobs are being outsourced to high-tech shops at home (think legal research) and to emerging markets abroad (jobs such as processing individual tax returns).

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