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Data suggests a bachelor's degree is more valuable than ever

Even with the turbulent job market, recent data suggests that a bachelor’s degree is more valuable than ever. The New York Times reports that the wage gap between college graduates and those without postsecondary education continues to grow. In fact, according to the latest data from the United States Census Bureau, bachelor’s degree holders make almost twice the median annual wage of workers who possess only a high school diploma.

Perhaps because of this disparity, an increasing number of high school students are electing to pursue degrees following graduation. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 68.3 percent of 2011 high school graduates were enrolled in college in October 2011. Furthermore, of those college-bound students, six out of 10 were enrolled in four-year institutions.

Due to the changing professional climate, more employers are requiring bachelor’s degrees for positions that haven’t traditionally required postsecondary education. The Times highlights a list of careers that, between 2007 and 2012, saw the most significant increase in job advertisements that include a bachelor’s degree requirement. Positions with the largest change are dental laboratory technicians and chemical equipment operators, but some surprising careers also make the list, such as photographers, fashion designers, record clerks, athletic trainers, and freight agents.

While this transformation is primarily contributed to a greater emphasis on technical skills, the changing professional climate seems to be a significant factor as well. The surplus of applicants allows employers to have more selective hiring requirements than they had five years ago. Today, many businesses use the bachelor’s degree prerequisite to filter through the mountain of resumes they receive, regarding it as a sign of drive or talent rather than for the skills actually acquired.

Despite the influx of college-bound students, many believe there may not be enough qualified graduates to fill future positions. This workforce discrepancy is already a reality in states like California, for example, where demand for workers with a bachelor’s degree is growing steadily.

The Public Policy Institute of California predicts that two out of every five jobs in the state will require a college education by 2025. This statistic is particularly alarming, as the institute estimates that less than one-third of California’s working-age adults will have a degree by then. Today, according to the Census Bureau, only 28.5 percent of the U.S. population 25 and older possesses a bachelor’s degree or above.


Sources:
“2011 American Community Survey,” census.gov
“California’s Future Workforce: Will There Be Enough College Graduates?” ppic.org, December 2006, Deborah Reed
“College Enrollment and Work Activity of 2011 High School Graduates,” bls.gov, April 19, 2012
“Degree Inflation? Jobs That Newly Require B.A.’s,” economic.blogs.nytimes.com, December 4, 2012, Catherine Rampell