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Helping high school students broaden their knowledge of postsecondary education options.

Most of today's school counselors are very aware of the need for almost all high school graduates to seek some kind of postsecondary education that will help them succeed in the rapidly changing, high-tech society of the Information Age (Halperin, 1998). Most are also aware of the fact that, while only about 30% of new jobs predicted to be created in the next 10 years will require at least a bachelor's degree, more than 70% of parents seem to believe their child will fill one of those jobs (Parnell, 1985). When counselors try to interest both students and their parents in considering other options in addition to colleges offering bachelor's degree's, strong parental resistance is often encountered. In voicing their objections, many parents appear to be asking "What's the matter with my child? Why shouldn't he or she enroll in a college offering the bachelor's degree?" So long as parents continue to express this point of view, it will be very difficult for counselors to discuss other alternatives with students.

This article begins with a section that emphasizes the economic benefits of a bachelor's degree. A short discussion of both the limitations and the virtues of other kinds of postsecondary educational options follows. The basic purpose is to provide information that counselors can use to help both high school students and their parents become aware of and understand a wide variety of other kinds of postsecondary options also available for choice.

Education Pays

Figure 1 shows that a total of approximately 50,562,000 job openings are projected to become available during the 1996-2006 period (Charting the projections: 1996-2006, 1997, 1998). Of these, 21,944,000 (43.4%) will require only 2 to 3 weeks of short-term, on-the-job training and only 10,429,000 (20.6%) will require a bachelor's degree or more. Parents and students need help in understanding that, if the number of persons seeking college degrees greatly exceeds the number of job openings calling for such a degree, it is inevitable that many college graduates can expect to find that most of the jobs available to them do not require a college degree.

While the number of jobs expected to become available is greatest for occupations requiring only 2 to 3 weeks of on-the-job training, the rate of growth is greatest for occupations requiring at least a bachelor's degree. Further, this information clearly shows that all of the occupations requiring at least a bachelor's degree are expected to grow at a higher than average rate when compared to all occupations. The trend is clearly toward closer and closer relationships between education and employment. The validity of the expression "education pays" remains both high and positive.

The prediction that approximately 21 million of these expected 50+ million jobs will require only 2 to 3 weeks of short-term, on-the-job training would seem to be especially bothersome to school counselors. These are, by and large, the dead end, low pay jobs that never pay workers a comfortable income. If high school leavers seek employment without receiving postsecondary education of any kind, this is the type of job most open to them. Until and unless they obtain some kind of postsecondary education, they are unlikely to obtain what most persons would describe as "good jobs."

Some College, No Degree vs. the Associate Degree

The phrase some college, no degree, as defined by Hecker (1998) for the Bureau of Labor Statistics, includes both former and current students who have not yet completed either a bachelor's or an associate degree. It also includes workers who, while not working toward any degree, enrolled in one or more college-level courses, and persons who received some kind of certificate but were not enrolled in any degree program. This primary subpopulation is those persons who, after having enrolled in some kind of 2-year or 4-year college program, withdrew prior to completing it.

As shown in Table 1, Hecker (1998) reported median weekly earnings by sex for persons with various amounts of education. The largest differences for both men ($155) and for women ($119) in weekly earnings occurred when those with an associate degree were compared to those with a bachelor's degree. There is no doubt but that a positive relationship exists between level of education and weekly earnings. The smallest differences for both men ($41) and for women ($50) occurred when weekly earnings were compared for persons in the "some college, no degree" category and persons in the "associate degree" category.

For both men and women, persons in the "some college, no degree" category earned less, on the average, than did persons in the associate degree category. It is not clear why this is so. It is suspected this may be related, at least in part, to specific career skills acquired by associate degree persons as part of their degree requirements. It may also be due, in part, to the fact that many employers prefer to hire "completers" rather than "noncompleters."

Missing from Hecker's (1998) data are comparisons with what he calls "occupations that usually require completion of vocational training provided in postsecondary vocational schools." If these kinds of data were added, it is suspected that these sizable differences in median weekly income between men and women would be substantially reduced.

Community College vs. the Four-Year College

The often-quoted statistics showing that only about half of those embarking on a program leading to a bachelor's degree actually receive that degree within a 5-year period need to be carefully interpreted by counselors as they work with high school seniors and their parents. A publication on this subject produced by the National Center for Education Statistics (1996) shows that, for students with a goal of obtaining a bachelor's degree, 57% of those seeking that degree obtained it within a 5-year period. On the other hand, for those attempting to meet this goal by enrolling initially in a 2-year institution, only 7.9% obtained the bachelor's degree within a 5-year period. It is suspected that this may be due, in part, to a condition that many of those who first enter a community college program appear to make that decision primarily because of a lack of funds, not because they personally favored community colleges over colleges offering the bachelor's degree.

It seems safe to say that most community college students do not have a bachelor's degree as their primary goal. Community colleges are much more likely to be chosen by high school students and their parents primarily because of their various occupational education programs and the general education opportunities they offer.

Findings in Table 2 make it clear that postsecondary education is the primary path out of poverty (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1995). When education is measured in terms of expected job earnings over the work life of most persons, it seems clear "the more the better." For example, (a) high school graduates, on average, earn almost one and one-half times as much as high school dropouts; (b) persons who pursue some college work after high school but fail to obtain any degree do not earn much more, on average, than do high school graduates; (c) persons age 18 and over who have obtained an associate degree from a community college earn, on average, about $5,000 more annually than do persons with some college but no college degree. If viewed only from an economic point of view, the advantages of a bachelor's degree or more appear obvious.

The difference between the mean annual earnings of persons with an associate degree ($24,398) compared to those with a bachelor's degree ($32,629) is about the same as the difference between those with an associate degree ($24,398) compared to those with a high school diploma ($18,737). These differences are all sizable and important to consider.

A strong positive relationship exists between average job earnings and level of education. There is no doubt that, on average, college graduates have higher job earnings than do persons without a bachelor's degree. Another example illustrating this was reported by Cosca (1998). Cosca's data, shown in Table 3, reported median annual earnings for each of several education levels. While these reported earnings showed slightly different amounts from those reported in 1995, the general direction was the same. This is a clear example of the validity of the "education pays" motto.

Shelley (1996) published still another set of data justifying the claim that "education pays." She reported the median earnings of college graduates are expected to be $640,000 higher over the 40-year work life than for high school graduates. Further, she reported that the 25% of college graduates with a bachelor's degree who did not secure college-level job offers are expected to have lower salaries and less job satisfaction than those who did enter college-level jobs.

Counselors should recognize that the research findings reported here are based almost exclusively on comparing college graduate earnings with high school graduate earnings. Only a few reports are made comparing graduate job earnings with those for persons receiving a variety of other kinds of postsecondary education. It is also important to keep in mind the fact that these statistics are almost all made using either the difference in average or the difference in median job earnings. Some high school graduates will earn more than the median for college graduates. Some college graduates will have earnings no higher than the median for high school graduates. Most of the time, however, these statistics are expected to hold true. Once again, it seems safe to say higher education usually does pay!

Is There Currently a Surplus of College Graduates in the Labor Market?

Conflicting research exists with respect to whether or not a surplus or a shortage of college graduates exists in the U.S. labor market. A few of the most carefully researched reports now available are reviewed here.

One of the early reports estimated that, between 1994 and 2005, there will be 1,340,000 bachelor's degree graduates annually compared with 1,040,000 job openings requiring such a degree (Shelley; 1996). If Shelley's figures are correct, this makes a surplus of 300,000 college graduates with bachelor's degrees each year during this period. Further, since the number of college graduates seeking jobs will grow more quickly than the number of college-level jobs, the proportion of college graduates with a bachelor's degree who are expected to enter noncollege jobs or be unemployed, is predicted to grow from 18% to 22%.

Mittelhauser (1998) reported that the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects there will be about 250,000 more college graduates with a bachelor's degree entering the labor force each year between 1996 and 2006 than there will be new college-level jobs. Like Shelley (1996), Mittelhauser assumed the numbers involved would remain about the same from year to year.

Further, Mittelhauser (1998) emphasized the unemployment rate for college graduates with a bachelor's degree was only 2.4% in 1996 compared with an unemployment rate that year for high school graduates of 5.7%. He explained this by emphasizing the labor market favors college graduates as applicants even when the job being sought does not require a bachelor's degree.

Fleetwood and Shelley (2000) wrote a major article addressing the question "Is there a surplus of college graduates?" Using more recent data, they predicted that for the first time in many years, the total college-level job openings between 1998 and 2008 will nearly equal the number of college educated entrants to the labor force. They attribute this significant turn-around primarily to the large number of retirees expected to come from the beginning of the "baby boom" generation, 1946-1964. They also predicted that jobs for college graduates are expected to grow by 28%, more than twice as fast as for noncollege required jobs.

The information found in these three significant articles was not collected or reported in a directly comparable fashion. Thus, it is extremely difficult to say that one of these findings is more valuable than the other. Still, some generalizations can be made that are likely to be true. First, while strong disagreements obviously exist regarding whether or not there is a surplus of college graduates with a bachelor's degree in the labor market, there appears to be no argument with the claim that employers will welcome most of these graduates whether or not they have jobs that require specific vocational skills. Second, and related to the first, unemployment rates among college graduates are reported in all of these articles to be lower than rates for other parts of the labor force. Third, asking whether or not it is legitimate to say a surplus exists can really be answered only by comparing the number of college graduates seeking employment and the number of jobs seeking college graduates with a bachelor's degree. This cannot be done in an exact fashion through study of these three articles.

Whether or not a surplus exists is, in part, dependent on the proportion of persons receiving college degrees at the bachelor's level each year. At the present time, slightly fewer than half of all persons seeking college degrees at the bachelor's level are receiving them (National Center for Education Statistics, 1995). If higher education institutions were to launch a concentrated effort to greatly increase that percentage, they obviously would be contributing to making the surplus greater. If, instead, they were to launch an active campaign aimed at increasing academic standards and thus the number of students who receive failing grades, they would almost certainly greatly reduce whatever surplus exists. If they do neither of these things, the surplus situation should remain about as it is now.

If all of the basic goals of higher education were pursued, it would be very difficult indeed to justify a claim that there is a "surplus" of college graduates. In addition, some of the most recent research indicates there may not be a true surplus of college graduates even with respect to availability of jobs requiring a bachelor's degree or more (Fleetwood & Shelley, 2000).

What is a Good Job?

Obtaining a good job seems to be a primary goal of students attending most kinds of postsecondary education. Some persons seem convinced that the only really good jobs are those requiring a bachelor's degree or more from a higher education institution. Many others would strongly disagree with that point of view.

Expected job earnings appears to be only one of several occupationally related reasons some persons decide to enroll in postsecondary institutions. Important as these economic findings are, they should not be viewed as the only reason for student enrollment. Other reasons for making occupational choices noted by Mariani (1999) have produced data verifying the fact that many "high-earning" jobs exist that do not require a bachelor's degree.

In addition, Mariani (1999) noted that economic factors represent only one component of what is called a good job. Other important components of a good job, for some persons, include:

* Fringe benefits

* Projected growth in new job openings

* Job security

* Advancement potential

* Nature of the work

In addition to these reasons, Cosca (1994, 1995) listed several reasons many persons, including both those with bachelor's degrees and those without such degrees, answer the question "What is a good job?" They contended that a good job may emphasize:

* Level of physical exertion necessary

* Cleanliness and safety of the workplace

* Level of contact with other persons

* Ability to decide how the work is to be done

* Level of stress

* Risk taking

Cautions for Those Who Consider Seeking a Bachelor's Degree

The economic advantages favoring those with at least a bachelor's degree over those without such degrees are, on the average, clear. However, exceptions to this general rule are numerous. They include such statistics as the following:

1. Less than half (45.8%) of students entering 2-year or 4-year colleges in 1989 with a goal of pursuing a bachelor's degree had attained that degree by 1994 (National Center for Educational Statistics, 1996).

2. About 27% of 1994-95 college freshmen were reported not to be returning as sophomores in fall 1995 (Geraghty, 1996).

3. In 1998 about 5.9 million college graduates were working in positions that traditionally did not require a bachelor's degree or higher (Fleetwood & Shelley, 2000).

4. Only 70% of college graduates joining the labor force during the 1990--2005 period are expected to enter jobs requiring a college degree (Shelley, 1992).

5. The number of underutilized college graduates tripled from 1 million in 1969 to 3.2 million in 1979, and the proportion of underutilized college graduates rose from 1 in 10 to 2 in 10 during the 1980-1990 period (Hecker, 1992).

6. The proportion of college graduates who do not find employment in college-level jobs is projected to be 18% each year between 1996 and 2006 (Hecker, 1992).

7. Of the 29 million college graduates in the labor force in 1992, 24 million were in jobs that require a college degree and 5 million were in jobs that do not (Mittelhauser, 1998).

These kinds of information combine to make it clear that persons with bachelor's degrees are usually but not always successful in their efforts to participate in the labor market after leaving the institution. Some jobs are almost always available to them. A bachelor's degree helps to open many doors but it is no guarantee of occupational success.

Occupational Success Information for Persons Without a Bachelor's Degree

Just as a bachelor's degree is no guarantee of occupational success, failure to secure such a degree is no guarantee of finding only "second best" jobs. Here is some key information regarding persons in the occupational society who have good jobs but do not possess a bachelor's degree. Such information includes:

1. Fifteen percent of full-time wage and salary workers age 25 and older who did not have a bachelor's degree in 1998 earned more than $821 per week, the median for college graduates (Mariana, 1999).

2. Thirty-eight percent of all workers without bachelor's degrees earned more in 1998 than the median for all workers, $572 per week (Mariana, 1999).

3. High school graduates in jobs requiring post high school training earn, on the average, $150 more per week than those in jobs not requiring such training (Moskowitz, 1995).

4. Nineteen and one-half percent of all workers are "high earners." Roughly 1 in 3 of "high earners" do not have a bachelor's degree. Examples of "high earner" occupations include: (a) registered nurse, (b) police and detectives, (c) carpenter, (d) truck driver, (e) engineering technician, and (f) wholesale sales (Tise, 1990).

5. One in six full-time salaried workers age 25 and older who didn't have a bachelor's degree in 1993 earned, on the average, more than $700 or more per week, close to the median for college graduates (Tise, 1990).

6. The 1999 median annual earnings of persons with an associate degree ($34,564) is greater than that for persons with some college but no degree ($31,793) (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000).

It is becoming increasingly clear that, in addition to studying differences between high school graduates and college graduates, today's high school students and their parents should also consider information from former high school graduates who have obtained some kind of postsecondary career-oriented education at the subbaccalaureate level. This kind of education is currently growing at a faster rate than any other educational level (Projected changes in employment 1992-2005, 1994). There is little doubt but that the occupational society in the United States is moving rapidly in the direction of drawing greater and greater differences between skilled and unskilled workers, not simply between college graduates and noncollege graduates. No matter how much they want today's high school students to become college graduates, reality dictates that, in order to keep options open, both students and their parents should consider information regarding various other kinds of postsecondary subbaccalaureate career-oriented educational institutions that are also available for choice.

Concluding Thoughts

The sacred right of every student to make his or her own life choices must always be the top concern of the school counselor. To protect that right students must be helped to make what, for them, are reasoned, reasonable choices. This should be the top priority for both their counselors and their parents.

Data presented in this article make it clear that it would be poor reasoning to assume the "best" path every high school graduate could follow is to seek a bachelor's degree. Yet that, in effect, appears to be the situation in most places today.

Neither school counselors nor those students they try to help should ignore the fact that choosing college enrollment carries a risk. It will not be fair to either students or to society in general if they ignore such factors as (a) the large number of college students who fail to ever obtain a bachelor's degree, (b) the sizable number of college graduates who can find only jobs that do not require a college degree, or (c) the sizable numbers of noncollege graduates whose jobs have higher salaries than those paid to college graduates.

It is time today's school counselors "bite the bullet" and help both students and their parents make more reasoned decisions regarding college attendance. There is no intent here to minimize the value of a baccalaureate degree. Rather, the prime goal has been to encourage expanding the varieties of postsecondary education available to today's high school students.
Table 1. Median Weekly Earnings by Level of
Education - 1996

Level of Education Men Women

All levels $584 $435
High school graduates $504 $361
Some college, no degree $571 $411
Associate degree $612 $473
Bachelor's degree $767 $592

Note: From Occupations and earnings of workers with some
college but no degree by D. Hecker, 1998. Occupational Outlook
Quarterly, 42(2), 28-39.
Table 2. Earnings by Level of Education

Education Level Mean annual Estimated
 earnings earnings over
 age 18 & over work life age
 age 25-64

Professional $74,560 $3,013,000
Doctorate $54,904 $2,142,000
Master's $40,368 $1,619,000
Bachelor's $32,629 $1,421,000
Associate $24,398 $1,062,000
Some college, no degree $19,666 $993,000
High school $18,737 $821,000
Not a high school graduate $12,809 $609,000

Note: From Education: It Pays for the rest of your life by Bureau
of Labor Statistics, 1995, Occupational Outlook Quarterly, 39(1),
Table 3. Earnings of Graduates by Level of
Education in 1996

Education Level Median Annual Earnings

Professional $71,868
Ph.D. $60,827
Master's $46,269
Bachelor's $36,155
High school $23,317

Note: Adapted from Earnings of college graduates in 1996 by T.
Cosca, 1998, Occupational Outlook Quarterly, 42(3), 21.
Figure 1. Projected Change in Employment by Education and
Training Category 1996 - 2006.

 Job openings due
 to growth and
 net replacement
 Percent of needs,
 change, 1996-2006,
 1996-2006, projected
 projected (thousands)

Short-term on-the-job training 13 21,944
Moderate-term on-the-job training 9 5,628
Work experience plus bachelor's
 or higher degree 18 3,481
Long-term on-the-job training 8 3,466
Work experience in a
 related occupation 12 3,285
Postsecondary vocational training 7 2,329
Bachelor's degree 25 7,343
Associate degree 22 1,614
First professional degree 18 582
Doctoral degree 19 460
Master's degree 15 430

Average all occupations 14

Note. Adapted from "Charting the projections: 1996-2006," Bureau
of Labor Statistics, 1997-1998, Occupational Outlook Quarterly, 41(4),
pp. 11-12.

Note: Table made from bar graph.


Bureau of Labor Statistics. (1995). Education: It pays for the rest of your life. Occupational Outlook Quarterly, 39(1) 52.

Charting the projections: 1996-2006. (1997-1998). Occupational Outlook Quarterly, 41(4), 11-12.

Cosca, T. (1994-95). High-earning workers who don't have a bachelor's degree. Occupational Outlook Quarterly, 38(4), 38-46.

Cosca, T. (1998). Earnings of college graduates in 1996. Occupational Outlook Quarterly, 42(3), 21-29.

Fleetwood, C., & Shelley, K. (2000) The outlook for college graduates, 1998-2008: A balancing act. Occupational Outlook Quarterly, 44(3), 3-9.

Geraghty, M. (1996, July 19). More students quitting college before sophomore year, data show. Chronicle of Higher Education, pp. 35-36.

Halperin, S. (1998). The forgotten half revisited. American youth and young families. Washington, DC: American Youth Policy Forum.

Hecker, D. (1992). College graduates: Do we have too many or too few? Occupational Outlook Quarterly, 36(2), 13-23.

Hecker, D. (1998). Occupations and earnings of workers with some college but no degree. Occupational Outlook Quarterly, 42(2), 28-39.

Mariani, M. (1999). High-earning workers who don't have a bachelor's degree. Occupational Outlook Quarterly, 43(3), 8-15.

Mittelhauser, M. (1998). The outlook for college graduates, 1996-2006: Prepare yourself. Occupational Outlook Quarterly, 42(2), 2-9.

Moskowitz, R. (1995). College, no: Training, yes. Occupational Outlook Quarterly, 39(2), 23-27.

National Center for Education Statistics. (1995). Table 1-Educational attainment of 1980 high school sophomores by 1992. High school and beyond: sophomore cohort, 1980-1992. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.

National Center for Education Statistics. (1996). Table 8-Descriptive summary of 1989-90 beginning postsecondary students: 5 years later. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.

Parnell, D. (1985). The neglected majority. Washington, DC: American Association of Community and Junior Colleges.

Projected changes in employment 1992-2005, by education and training usually required: Two views, two stories. (1994). Occupational Outlook Quarterly, 38(1), 52.

Shelley, K. (1992). More college graduates may be chasing fewer jobs. Occupational Outlook Quarterly, 36(2), 4-11.

Shelley, K. (1996). 1994-2005 Lots of college-level jobs, but not for all graduates. Occupational Outlook Quarterly, 40(2), 2-9.

Tise, S. (1990). High-earning workers who don't have a 4-year college degree. Occupational Outlook Quarterly, 34(3), 34-37.

U.S. Census Bureau. (2000). Annual demographic survey March supplement. A project between the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Bureau of the Census. Washington, DC: Author.

Kenneth B. Hoyt, Ph.D., is University Distinguished Professor, Counseling and Educational Psychology, Kansas State University, Manhattan.
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Author:Hoyt, Kenneth B.
Publication:Professional School Counseling
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2001
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