College Degrees Are Not Necessary for Many Jobs

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College degrees are simply not necessary for many jobs. Of the 30 jobs projected to grow at the fastest rate over the next decade in the United States, only seven typically require a bachelor’s degree, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Among the top 10 growing job categories, two require college degrees: accounting (a bachelor’s) and postsecondary teachers (a doctorate). But this growth is expected to be dwarfed by the need for registered nurses, home health aides, customer service representatives and store clerks. None of those jobs require a bachelor’s degree. Professor Vedder likes to ask why 15 percent of mail carriers have bachelor’s degrees, according to a 1999 federal study. “Some of them could have bought a house for what they spent on their education, ” he said. Professor Lerman, the American University economist, said some high school graduates would be better served by being taught how to behave and communicate in the workplace. Such skills are ranked among the most desired — even ahead of educational attainment — in many surveys of employers. In one 2008 survey of more than 2, 000 businesses in Washington State, employers said entry-level workers appeared to be most deficient in being able to “solve problems and make decisions, ” “resolve conflict and negotiate, ” “cooperate with others” and “listen actively.” Yet despite the need, vocational programs, which might teach such skills, have been one casualty in the push for national education standards, which has been focused on preparing students for college. While some educators propose a radical renovation of the community college system to teach work readiness, Professor Lerman advocates a significant national investment by government and employers in on-the-job apprenticeship training. He spoke with admiration, for example, about a program in the CVS pharmacy chain in which aspiring pharmacists’ assistants work as apprentices in hundreds of stores, with many going on to study to become...
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