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(By – Staff Writer)

Is That Four Year Degree Really Necessary?
As you make your way through this varied and up and down economy, you think about your children. Looking at the shrinking professional New York job market versus a friend’s daughter making great money as a fast food GM without a four year – or even a two year – degree, makes you wonder if the college route is the right one for your kids.
We have always felt that ‘bettering’ oneself meant going to college, for middle class kids in particular. It was the road to a profession complete with promotions, transfers, 401ks and long term job security. Well we now know that in this economy there is no job security. In this economy it might be more beneficial to go to work right after high school.

Who Gets the Jobs
So who is getting the jobs these days? Who has longevity and who ends up unemployed? What the data from this recovery seems to say is you get hired easily into low level jobs with or without any college education. This was happening while other fresh college grads were walking the streets and handing out hundreds of resumes. Which side would you choose?

A job today and a paycheck a week later or an 18 month or more job search and tens of thousands of college loans to pay? For too many people the choice is following our obsession with instant gratification and taking the low paying job. At least they had a job. More and more college grads began to move in this direction.

Unemployment during the Recession
During the beginning of the recession and now during the end of it, certain lower paying jobs were available when higher paying; degree requiring jobs were not available. From 2007 – 2012, the unemployment rate for college educated workers went from 3.4% to 6.5%; while the unemployment rate for the high school graduate went from 4.5% to 8.7%. (Bureau of Labor Statistics)

This data tells us that what our eyes are telling us is not true. Anecdotally it would appear that the high school graduate is the one with the better deal. The data tells us otherwise. Yes certain lower paying jobs started out safer than the expensive ones, but it was not the high school graduates who were taking these jobs.

Even this data was misleading though. Yes college grads were getting more jobs than high school grads however, many were taking jobs they were well overqualified for, part time or low paying jobs. The college grad was taking the jobs away from the entry level high school graduate.

A study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York of federal data showed that of the fields that hire more high school grads than college grads: such as hospitality (restaurants/fast food/ hotels) and agriculture/natural resources/farming, degreed people were taking these jobs. Take a look at this data:
In the hospitality field 63% of the college grads were in jobs that don’t require a degree. This field had 4% unemployment rate from 2009 – 2011. The agricultural field had 57% of its college educated employees in jobs not requiring degrees and a 5% overall unemployment rate.
Worst of all were the fields of healthcare and engineering. Health care showed only a 3% unemployment but 75% of its college grads worked in jobs not requiring a degree, as did engineers and educators.
Lifetime Earnings
Though these statistics might seem grim for the future of the college graduates who are carrying major debt, it is not. The increasing rate of pay over the lifetime of the college grad no matter where they had to start out, far outweighs that of the hire school grad. Remember the engineers who are working in jobs that do not require a degree? Studies show they will move on into jobs better suited to their credentials as the economy recovers.
What happens over the course of the recovery is lower unemployment for those with degrees. What happens over the course of the recovery is workers with degrees increase their weekly earnings at a far greater rate than those without. In 2012 the Bureau of Labor Statistics data showed the degreed individual earning a little over $1000 per week while the high school graduate earned $650.
You can certainly see how over a lifetime of earnings, having a four year college degree is a ticket to much higher earnings than even that friend’s daughter who is a GM in the fast food industry. For one thing this GM is now locked in at her level. She might make $60,000 per year but without a degree she can go no higher. Most in her position will make $50,000 per year or $2 million over a 40 year career.
On the other hand a degreed educator might make the same unless they had an advanced degree and then they might make $3.5 million over 40 years. The Health Care worker and the engineer with only a 4 year degree can earn $2.6 million and $3.5 million respectively.
It is better to earn a degree and pay off your loans, as you will stay employed longer and over the course of time earn much more than the high school grad. It is still better to get a degree than not.

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