With student debt at an all-time high and no guarantee of post-graduate jobs, a recent study by Georgetown University found that a bachelor’s degree may be the only saving grace to help students weather the economic downpour.
Released in August by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, the study found that more than 2.2 million jobs that require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree have been created since the 2007 start of the recession. At the same time, jobs that require only a high school diploma have decreased by 5.8 million in that same time.
Ahmad Ijaz, the director of economic forecasting at The University of Alabama’s Center for Business and Economic Research, believes the study is an accurate portrayal of the current job market facing students today.
However, with an increase in jobs comes an increase in competition.
“Competition increases every year, especially when the economy is like this,” Ijaz said. “More people go to college, and then, many people go to graduate school, which adds to the competition.”
Ijaz believes with an influx of college students in the job search, bachelor’s degrees have become the new norm.
“The economy is just slow,” he said. “People who can’t find jobs either accept lesser jobs or go back to school. Therefore, master’s degrees have pretty much become the new bachelor’s degree. Once the economy starts going again, it may go back, but right now, it’s how it is.”
Though a bachelor’s degree is becoming increasingly standard, it is still an important commodity.
“It is a tough job market for college graduates but far worse for those without a college education,” said Anthony P. Carnevale, the Georgetown Center’s director and co-author of the report, in the study’s press release. “At a time when more and more people are debating the value of post-secondary education, this data shows that your chances of being unemployed increase dramatically without a college degree.”
Ijaz said the outsourcing of manual labor and manufacturing jobs leave careers that require a higher level of education.
“This is something that has been going on for quite a while now,” Ijaz said. “With more manufacturing plants going overseas and using more advanced technology, jobs require higher levels of education and higher skill levels.”
Allie Di Giulian, a UA graduate in history, points out that this increase in educational expectations isn’t new.
“Fifty years ago, not everyone went to college — if you had a high school diploma, you could get a good job, but if you had a college degree, you automatically got a better one,” she said. “With the GI Bill from the ’40s and people wanting to dodge the draft of the Vietnam War, more people went to college, more people got degrees, and now, it’s commonplace to have a bachelor’s degree. Having a master’s, though, sets you apart. It’s harder, more reading, longer tests and more specialized.”
Di Giulian remains hopeful in her job prospects but notes that the higher-paying jobs come from more specialized degrees.
“With my history degree, I could apply for human resource jobs — or things like that — and I could probably get them,” she said. “And that’s a real job. I don’t know about advancement in that field, but it’s there and something doable. But if your degree is in chemical engineering, obviously by just having a bachelor’s degree, you’ll get a better-paying job.”
Ijaz agrees that some college majors will be more successful than others in the job market. He believes degrees in engineering, sciences or business will be less problematic than those in liberal arts due simply to demand.
UA senior Jamie House realized these concerns during his undergraduate work as an education major with an emphasis in history. Believing a bachelor’s degree in education was no longer enough to become a teacher, he switched his major to history. He plans to continue his education into graduate school in order to make himself a better candidate for future employment.
“I think the chances of getting a job without a master’s degree these days are slim to none,” he said. “Especially in the education field, if I want to be taken seriously, I need a master’s. Having a bachelor’s is typical. It’s commonplace now, so you don’t stand out in a crowd anymore.”
However, sophomore advertising major Amanda Wallace hopes her personality and work ethic will protect her from the economic storm.
“I don’t think that it’s the school you went to or the degree you have that matters most in a job search,” she said. “I’d say it’s more about who you are and what you have to offer as far as your field goes — not just what you learned sitting in the classroom.”
Regardless, Ijaz stressed the importance of one of the findings of the Georgetown study: Nearly seven percent of college graduates are unemployed, whereas 24 percent of high school diploma holders are.
“You absolutely need a college education,” Ijaz said. “There aren’t many jobs left that only require a high school diploma.”