Graduation season is here. We see eager young people cross a stage, receive a piece of paper and enter a new phase of their lives. Hope and optimism fill the air. The future looks bright. But is it?
The latest labor market data tell us that those who cross more stages and receive more diplomas are much more likely to have jobs. The overall U.S. unemployment rate was 7.5 percent in April. That’s the national average. Break it down by education level and you see a different picture.
| Bachelor's degree or higher
|| 3.9 percent
| Some college
|| 6.4 percent
| High school graduate
|| 7.4 percent
| Less than high school
|| 11.6 percent
High school dropouts are almost three times more likely to be unemployed than college graduates are. So if we just send everyone to college, will the jobs problem be solved? No, because education isn’t the only barrier to full employment.
We focus on education because it (usually) means the person has some kind of knowledge. The degree itself doesn’t make the graduate more valuable than the dropout is. Employers need skills, not pieces of paper. Anyone with the right skills ¬— and who is in the right place at the right time — can usually get the job.
From a hiring employer’s perspective, diplomas and degrees are sorting tools. They provide a quick way to reduce the applicant list to a manageable length. People who have skills but not schooling lose out on this first cut.
This is also why graduating from an elite university with a large, well-placed alumni base is so helpful. Top managers form life-long relationships in college, and turn to their networks when they need help.
The Internet is shaking up this old system. So wish those new graduates good luck. They’re going to need it.
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