When universities and colleges transform their educational models, matriculating a large number of students through degree completion becomes the major goal. Higher education institutions desire to be the main gateway to greater employment in the workforce; but for innovation to truly work, researchers say, colleges and universities must make job attainment the main driving force to motivate students in the 21st century.
“Higher education is not carefully aligned with the labor market,” said Anthony P. Carnevale, director and research professor at Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.
Carnevale noted that within university culture, there is an accepted “seat of the pants judgement” when it comes to understanding the relationship between degree attainment and job placement. Most times, said the professor, college and university administrations do not attempt to align academic structures with the labor market, which often backfires on the student.
“There’s a lot of buyer’s regret,” said Carnevale. “ You ask some people a couple years out of college if they had to do it all over again, they would choose a different major. These concerns go unattended by institutions.”
This is evident in a recent study coauthored by Carnevale and fellow research professor and senior economist, Ban Cheah, which found differences in degree versus employment status. The results showed that while a bachelor’s degree will secure better levels of employment and salary, certain majors fared better in the economy than others.
Elementary education, nursing, and parks and rec/physical fitness occupations maintain nearly recession-proof employment numbers. Running between 4 to 5 percent unemployment, these three career fields are buffered by either high turnover as people are promoted to management positions or switch careers, or by significant volumes of retirement by older workers to make room for younger employees, as in the case of teaching and social work.
Unemployment for architecture majors, however, has swelled to 12.8 percent recently due to setbacks in the housing market. Social sciences and liberal arts, ranging from law and public policy to liberal arts, maintain unemployment numbers of at least 10 percent.
Carnevale also warned against discrepancies in unemployment numbers for certain fields. Information Systems was found to have a high unemployment rate due to the inclusion of clerical and support jobs that act as the interface between customers and programmers.
These type of jobs, said Carnevale, reflect the notion that builders and programmers of computer technology are more valuable and maintain greater employment than users of computer technology.
“They tend to be first fired and last hired,” he said.
Ultimately, the study found that both graduate degree attainment and professional experience are the keys to getting higher salaries and lower unemployment. The study also showed that careers with initially high unemployment, such as law, social sciences, the arts, and even computer and mathematics, dropped dramatically by several percentage points once postgraduate experience and graduate degree completion was accounted for. As a result, salaries also skyrocketed from the low 30s to the high 50s and 60s, and even the six-figure level.
For these reasons, closing the gap between workforce and education is necessary.
“Colleges are still organized by academic discipline,” said Carnevale.
Some universities are moving to reflect economic needs. The University of Central Florida developed a partnership to build a new $655 million Veterans Administration Medical Center at their Lake Nona-based Medical City Campus.
Additionally, a residential, office and retail development “creative village” complex will be built on a 68-acre plot of land near the university’s Orlando campus. This would be home to several digital media and creative companies, as well as offer another academic space for UCF. It would accompany the current UCF Center for Emerging Media, located next door, which offers an interactive studio for video-game designers.
Carnevale said that innovation at the nation’s higher education institutions is great only if it begins to acknowledge what students do after they leave the classroom and not just when they are in it.
“We all agree that college allows you to live more fully in your time, but in a market economy you can’t do that if you’re living in your parent’s basement,” he said. “[Universities] need to pay attention to what the employment prospects are. That’s really a new idea.”
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I wish colleges focused as much on vocational skills as they do on general education requirements and "well-rounded" individuals. I find that my public high school offered more in terms of job coaching and foresight than my college. While some individual majors, Political Science and International Relations, presented panels on what to do with a degree in that field, they failed to explain how to get to those position or teach marketable skills. The only skill we were taught is networking, which, while important, is not the end-all-be-all.
I've said for years, there should be many more levels of achievement and acknowledgment.
Currently, if you graduated high school, started a four year college, but dropped out sometime in year three... it's as if you've done nothing. You still only have a high school diploma, and your two years becomes meaningless or something to be ashamed of. Why not mark ALL years of achievement? That way, people could feel GOOD about having finished two years instead of bad about not having finished four.
The same is true for vocational courses. Someone with one year of auto mechanic or nursing training still has more knowledge than someone who has none! State licensure would still have requirements, but certificates, diplomas and degrees can be easily multiplied to apply to ALL levels of learning. We should get rid of the shameful notion of "non-finishing" altogether and celebrate whatever level people DO finish. Empowering and acknowledging peoples' achievements would help the whole society by encouraging people to engage more and offer all their gifts, without institutionally-generated shame.
I say this as someone who didn't finish a four-year degree until age 52. But I still maintained curiosity, cultivated creativity, read widely, managed to make myself useful, developed a portfolio and resume, built up a pile of recommendation letters, and thrived professionally. We are conditioned into never questioning the way the educational "system" is designed. But before finishing my degree I managed to teach in classrooms, design buildings, and publish.
This is what I've learned: A degree (certificate or diploma) only tells other people what your minimum ability is. It says nothing about your maximum ability.
Why not let people earn more certificates along the way so that they can more easily show others their *true* minimum ability? Step by step is the only way any journey is taken. Banish shame!!
well articulated article on why higher education should shift its focus to career attainment. there is a specific set of tools necessary for today's job market, and while philosophy, political science, and architecture should still be studied, GE's should be re-evaluated to better reflect today's society. In college one of my GE's was physics..i will never use the knowledge that I learned in that class and my time would have been much better spent on learning how to code, for example.
I think a better job should be done in high school. Students need to be better advice about which major to take to avoid choosing a overcrowded one or one that does not lead to a job.
No! No! No! Wrong-the purpose of education is not simply for employment. Vocational and professional studies should be a part of course and degree options, of course.
It should not focus on careers it should include considerations of careers. The purpose of our great universities is education not employment. That being said, universities should listen to business, government, and community on how they value their students and what changes they would like to see.
I really struggle when thinking about the battle between lucrative degrees and studying what you want. My friends with Sociology and Philosophy degrees are struggling but I know they had a blast studying that stuff. They don't really have the desire to study a more technical field (which may secure employment). There just aren't many jobs that accomodate these fields of study.
I hadn't thought of graduates having buyer's regret, but I see that a lot among others.
gah. ... do you know how many world saving ideas have been rejected because corps couldnt make a profit form them? How about we let students learn to save the world instead of just making money. We need more world saving. we DONT need more greed.
We need more Vocational classes that focus on how to do what society is looking for. Students need the basics from their core teachers, and the application from people who have actually been in the fray of the public sector.
"Elementary education, nursing, and parks and rec/physical fitness occupations maintain nearly recession-proof employment numbers" Few mention the job markets that are faring well in the tough economy, usually everyone focuses on how dire job searching is
Great piece, Kelly. I think career attainment is important for college innovation, but I also think students need to encouraged to consider fields that will benefit them in the long term, which can be an issue. Many students don't think about the long term.
Jane, I'm right there with you. A lot of younger reporters I know already have the coding/web development skills I'm working to learn. I wish I would have taken some courses in those skills, so I could be more well-rounded. I'm playing catch up!
Education is the foundation. But some do question how do you apply said education to live and thrive. For some, it doesn't pay to be book smart, but lack the necessary skills to keep a roof over your head and food in your stomach.
Yes, I have thought about that as well. Prof. Carnevale said that it was important that students try to pick multiple majors or a variety of classes that make for a well-rounded, employable job seeker. That may mean that a sociology or philosophy major may need to get an MBA or study business, so they can inform CEOs on the psychology of a consumer. In essence, a sociology/philosophy major becomes a consultant and can make money and gain employment.
This is so true Tim. I enjoyed my professors that actually had industry experience versus those who studied to become professional professors.
Yes, and those job successes should be motivating factors for college bound students to choose a major within those career fields.
Thanks Shawn. I found through further research, a lot of colleges and universities aren't really honest enough to let students know the reality of job placement for their chosen major. That should be a huge priority with academic advisors.