Education & Family

US college degree still worth it, says study

Queuing for a job fair in New York
Image caption Queuing for a job fair in New York: College degrees remain vital to job chances

Getting a college degree is still a significant advantage in the jobs market, says a major research study in the United States.

The Pew research group examined the impact of the recession on the job opportunities for recent school and college leavers in the US.

It found that those with higher levels of education were much better insulated against job losses and pay cuts.

"A college degree still matters," says research manager Diana Elliott.

The study from the Pew group's Economic Mobility Project was an attempt to test the reality behind stories about college leavers who found themselves laden with debt and stuck in low-skill jobs.

Growing divide

It wanted to see whether it was still worth going to college, when there has been much disquiet in the US about rising tuition fees and the levels of student debt.

"There have been numerous stories in the newspapers about individuals with a degree who have had difficulties in the labour market," says Ms Elliott.

Image caption The recession has seen incomes slump, particularly for the least qualified

But she says that their research found that such individual stories were not representative of the typical experience of young people.

Instead it showed a strong link between getting a degree and access to higher status, more secure jobs. Getting a job was harder for all young people after the recession, but the extra difficulties faced by graduates were much less pronounced.

There was also little evidence, from a study using a sample of 140,000 people, that the recession was pushing many more graduates into non-graduate jobs.

The study - How Much Protection Does A College Degree Afford - shows that the most severe impact of the recession was on those who were least well qualified.

Those who did not stay in education beyond high school were more likely to be unemployed.

The recession lowered incomes across the jobs market - but while graduates faced a 5% drop in income, those without a college degree fell by 10%.

Those youngsters with college degrees have seen their earnings recovering - although still below pre-recession levels.

However earnings for those who did not study beyond high school have failed to rebound and are substantially below the levels of the 2008 recession and the early years of the decade.

This presents a picture of a widening social gulf - with levels of education one of the defining boundaries.

Learning to earning

The study looked at young people who had left education after school, those who had two-year associate degrees and full four-year bachelor degrees from college.

The hierarchy of academic achievement was closely mirrored by levels of employment and rates of pay.

Those who left after high school had gone into service sector jobs such as working in catering, shops and drivers.

Those youngsters with degrees had been recruited into managerial posts or into jobs such as teaching or accounting.

The advantages gained by having a degree are not evenly shared. More women than men are getting degrees - and black and Hispanic youngsters are much less likely than their white and Asian counterparts to have the advantages of having gone to college.

But it also shows that if poorer youngsters can get to university they are much more likely to climb up the income ladder than their counterparts without a degree.

"The question has been whether it is still worth going to college. Is a college degree still a good avenue for mobility?," says researcher, Ms Elliott.

"The main finding here is that post-secondary education is incredibly important."

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