According to an Inside Higher Ed article on a new government report, “Four of five students who graduated college in 2008 were able to find some sort of employment in the four years after their graduation, despite entering the work force during the worst of the economic recession, a federal report shows.” This very positive reading of the report has to be put in context. First of all, the study is only looking at people who graduated from four-year institutions, not community colleges or for-profit schools. Second of all, out of the 82% who have jobs, 84% have full-time jobs, so that means that 31% of all of these recent grads with degrees from four-year institutions were either unemployed or worked half time or less. Moreover, 10% of the employed were actually back in school.
One important issue that the report fails to examine is whether these students with bachelor degrees are working at jobs that traditionally require these degrees. We know from general labor trends that over 25% of the people working now who have earned college degrees are working at jobs that used to only require a high school degree or less. The government web site does tells us that 22% of the sample were in jobs not related to their college major, 40% were in jobs closely related to their major, and 31% had employment in jobs somewhat related to their majors.
A major problem with the study is that it relies mostly on self-reporting and a 17,00 person sample that skews white and female. 73% of the respondents were white and 58 were female. Moreover, 73% had graduated before the age of 24. Also, 32% graduated from private universities, and so this sample does not look like most students who are now enrolled in higher education.
Within this rather selective group of graduates (remember less than 60% of the students at these institutions ever graduate), after four years, the median salary for a full-time worker was $46,000 and the median salary for a part-time employee was $20,000. So half of the 69% (34%) of the recent college grads with full-time jobs with bachelor degrees from this selective sample were making less than $46,000 a year, and another 16% were making less than $20,000.
The report also tells us that in four years after graduation, 39% had one job, 34% were on second job, and 28% have had three or more jobs. In other words, there is a high level of job movement, which resulted in the finding that the average student in this sample spent 10 months out of the labor force in four years. We are thus a far way from the opening claim that four out of five recent graduates had jobs. Like so much reporting on employment, general claims have to be analyzed at a much deeper level in order to get the real story. A more accurate summary of this report would say that out of the select group of students who graduated in 2007-8 from four-year institutions, 61% presently had full-time jobs with a median salary of $46,000, while the rest of these graduates were making a median salary of $20,000 or less. Of course, these stats do not include the vast majority of students who are either at community colleges or who will never graduate.