Are colleges teaching the wrong skills?

Nearly half of all graduates end up in jobs that don't even require a higher education. The 'bartender with a bachelor's degree' trend will continue for years.

By Bruce Kennedy Jan 29, 2013 10:58AM

Image: College student (Stockbyte/Getty Images/Getty Images)Does having a college degree make you more competitive in the job market? If you're a recent college graduate, not necessarily.

A new report by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity says nearly half of all employed U.S. college graduates are in jobs that the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests require less than a four-year college education.

And according to the study, more than a third of those employed college graduates are in jobs that require no more than a high school diploma.

The report also suggests there’s a "growing disconnect" between the needs of employers and the training of students in college. It also questions if America is spending too much on its current system of higher education -- especially if college graduates are ending up overqualified for the jobs they get.

"Student-loan programs and federal assistance programs are based on some sort of implicit assumption that we're training people for the jobs of the future," Richard Vedder, director of the Center and a professor emeritus at Ohio University, said in an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education. "In reality, a lot of them are not."

Vedder believes the trend of what one of his colleagues calls the "bartender with a bachelor's degree" will continue well into the next decade.

But not everyone agrees with the Center’s findings. Washington's Committee for Economic Development says that, while America’s post-secondary education is faltering, the system has long been "the nation’s incubator" for human capital as well as innovation and continued prosperity and competition in the global marketplace.

"Right now you can look around the world and you can see a lot of high-tech, high-value high-productivity jobs that we are not doing in this country, in part because our country does not have the requisite skills," the Committee’s Joe Minarik told USA Today. And encouraging people to not attend college, he said, "is not what we should aspire to."

Last spring, the Committee issued a report calling on the nation’s business community to help reform higher education by helping to better outline the industrial sectors’ needs for the future.

Bruce MacLaury, Committee Trustee and president emeritus of the Brookings Institution, acknowledged there is a disconnect between higher education and the business community.

"But business leaders need to get involved," he said in a press statement. "They have the most to gain -- but the most to lose if we don’t improve our higher education."

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Jan 29, 2013 12:47PM

"But business leaders need to get involved," he said in a press statement. "They have the most to gain -- but the most to lose if we don’t improve our higher education."


I disagree with the above portion of the article.  Business leaders/business in general, will not lose if Americans don't improve our higher education.  Business will just get their people from outside the American higher education sector.

The major problem with higher education is that the lower levels of education don't start American kids off on the learning/career path that business leaders want.  Business leaders want problem solvers, people involved with math, science, chemistry, physics, finance, accounting, and communication skills.  When kids are taught by their high school  to go to liberal arts colleges and take philosophy and sociology they are doomed to a life of paying back $50,000 in student loans with a $35,000/year job...if they can find such a job.

Jan 29, 2013 11:35AM
It's not that colleges aren't training students for jobs in their fields, it's that becoming an attractive candidate in your field involves getting experience BEFORE you graduate, taking internships (even if unpaid), forming relationships with professors and industry professionals, basically paying your dues. Far too many just do the bare minimum to graduate, and that doesn't cut it anymore.
Jan 29, 2013 2:26PM
Ok, this completely defines the problem.  College is a lucrative business, and the whole process is just a formality.  This is not to say that there was no learning or benefit from it.  For 30 years, I have been asking why a town with a college has a good economy?  Why, because students can get drunk at the bars there, and there are jobs for people who want to work at bars.  This is really what a college education is all about!  The joke is on us!  Come on in, get 100K in loans, play the game to get the degree while funding some of the finest educators in the world (or so they think), and be on your way.  The student gets very little, and the ideology of the institution gets impressed on them. As we all know, American culture greatly values ideology, philosophy, etc.  We are past the basics of math, engineering and innovation.  Its not what can you do, but how you can fit in.  Its not original provocative thought, but how to keep the system going.   No wonder there is nothing new being invented.  Instead, we have simply rearranged things, turning phones into walkie talkies, downsizing computer chips, etc.  On the liberal side, we have also ignored the humanities as this society continues to be about building the ultimate ME, while ignoring the people around us who might actually have a thought to contribute, despite their weakness and perceived irrelevancy.  

This is also happening in the High Schools.  The education is becoming less while the funding has never been higher, and again its all a formality.  "A" students are dumbed down to "B" students, and "D" students are raised up to "C" students.  In the end, everyone gets a passing grade just for being there.  

Not only is all of this tragic in itself, but it also sends a message of apathy.  Why should anyone care?  This of course extends the problem as we just focus on ourselves and seek power and money over making a contribution.

The real bad news is that in the business world, things are the same.  Some guy owns the company.  Realize that most employees have been self managed in companies for years.  It's all good until a problem arises because we are behind in technology because a timely decision was not made.  Instead of innovation, 100% of the focus is on the financials, cooking the books, etc.  so that the execs get a great bonus and maybe the regular people get a raise 0.1% above inflation.  As for anyone's contribution at that level, it is rarely rewarded.

Sorry to be such a downer, because you have to get a degree today!  Its all formality and politics. As the USA continues down this road, continued prosperity will become more sparce.  You have to do the right things for the right reason to change this world, and it will take at least a generation to accomplish.
Jan 29, 2013 1:20PM

Granddaughter attends a college in California.  She wants to graduate in 4 years with a selected science degree and cannot because she is being strung along unable to sign up for REQUIRED courses because they are FULL.  Instead of 4 years, her best hopes are approximately 6 years for her desired degree so she can make application towards a desired doctorate degree.  What gives?? 


I have heard this time and again where some young kid with a consuming goal can be strung along taking courses unrelated to their degree seemingly to keep some of their courses alive and the professor employed!!  Colleges need to reassess what they are there for----to get students educated as quickly as possible so they can move on to post graduate desires.

Colleges and Universities today are teaching our kids to be Socialists. 
Jan 29, 2013 2:21PM
Having a College Degree myself, I can honestly say that people skills, critical thinking, and cross-subject application are missing in subject matter. College does teach students to take tests, and follow specific directions with good grades as the reward.

After learning that regurgitating information exactly how the professors want is more conducive to good grades than actual mastery of the subject matter, I managed to keep a 3.8 GPA and graduated with Honors. I was fortunate to have much real 'on the job' experience after graduating; the Degree helped get me the job, and the skills learned working and surviving in the real world kept me there! 

Jan 29, 2013 1:48PM

ABSOLUTELY. Three children going through universities. Odds are that ALL THREE will need to know entreprenurial skills in their lives. ZERO will get any exposure to it unless they formally attend business school. Business and finance school majors and grads have no entreprenurial exposure beyond how to make a spreadsheet (all that GAAP and FASB crap is great if you're a bookkeeper, not so if you start up any other type of enterprise). Folks... big platform import drop ship corporations might not make it through 2013. Once so, the vomit of paper pushing button pressing ignorant fools scrambling to cover basic costs without basic enterprise exposure will be laughable as we finally collapse.

Reading, Writing and Arithmetic and the fundamental hunter or gatherer mentality are requirements. A phony piece of paper bought at some college or university isn't.   

Jan 29, 2013 1:05PM

If only they could teach discipline and critical thinking.


Instead a Phd tells you if it feels good, it must be right.

$50,000 please.

Jan 29, 2013 3:33PM
They only thing they teach is how music, sports, arts and the government are the answers to their lives and how wonderful equality and Socialism are. I have seen this first hand for many years in my daughter's elementary and high school. Profound Constitutionalism.....absent. The value of money...absent. How to invest & save....absent. Day to day economics and taxes....absent. Entrepeneurship....absent. Religion and the inner self...absent. Capitalism & business....absent. Individualism & self reliance....absent. Trade skills....absent. 
Jan 29, 2013 12:53PM
Hi, I was taught that  there  is 2 things I need for a job,    1  go to work every day , and 2 when I get to work do what I boss tells me to do that day,       one  day I shared that with the big boss, he said, it is very hard to find some one who will do those 2 things,    myself I did not leard those 2 things in a college !
Jan 29, 2013 2:03PM
Ok, this completely defines the problem.  College is a lucrative business, and the whole process is just a formality.  This is not to say that there was no learning
Jan 29, 2013 2:05PM

"But business leaders need to get involved," he said in a press statement. "They have the most to gain -- but the most to lose if we don’t improve our higher education."


Aren't all of our big businesses post-Founder and chock full of these 'higher education types'? Do YOU see them A) functional or B) dysfunctional? Standard procedure on all standardized tests is to fill in B on all questions you can't confidently answer.

Do we know of ANY major corporations with quality training that transcends into the employee's career or are they always looking for "talent" but really have no clue what talent is? Hiring authorities haven't been this lame- ever.  

Jan 29, 2013 1:49PM
I think something that was missed here is, are employers expecting you to have a college degree for a job that doesn't require it?  I believe the answer is yes in most cases.  Take for example a factory worker job.  Really the only thing you need is your good health and good work ethic to excel in a job like that ... no degree required.  However, the employer might throw your job application out the window if he/she doesn't see college degree.  What this means is you have to get a degree so that you can compete with the other kazillion people that have a degree and want a factory job.
Jan 29, 2013 7:53PM
Tell your kids to stop getting degrees in Latin, English composition, or basket weaving.  I plan on taking my kids and putting them to work in an inner city McDonalds when they are 16 and showing them their future if they don't do well in school and work towards a degree that will give them the skills needed for a decent job.
Jan 30, 2013 11:08AM
Old school (excuse the pun) meant that achieving degree status after high school meant having some smarts over others taking blue collar jobs. Now those so called blue collar jobs seek people with technological skills to run and program sophisticated robotic machinery. Those highly trained in electronics are needed to keep the robots producing. Welders need blue print and set up skills, and so on. My history having attained a college degree decades ago makes this so simple to understand. 

If one desires study and a degree in the humanities so be it. Just remember you must have skills that someone needs NOW . The best places include all phases of engineering. The big 3 are hiring prospects off of 4-year tech parking lots to work in Detroit -- starting average is 100 grand! The other (a no brainer) is any health related field -- and I don't mean feeding old people baby food at meal time!

The above is such common knowledge. Yet the so called colleges are pushing out "graduates" by the boat load who lack true skills that are used in better jobs everyday.  So what is the hang up here? First and foremost is for students to have an early on goal. The next is to focus on that goal and apply learning skills that should have been attained at the k-12 level. You also should have a brain that can actually think and retain each taught principle and then be able to connect (apply) the next taught principle, and so on. This requires a clear head! You do not do drugs, alcohol, chase around at night, nor hang with the sour crowd. You STUDY THE RIGHT STUFF! This sounds like a ridged plan. It is but it works. Now go get those sophisticate skills or sit on the side lines with others holding paper degrees with majors in all those old areas of nothing much.

Jan 29, 2013 8:10PM

You had better study lots of science and math if you are determined to get a decent job when you finish school.   You do not need a four year degee.  You can go to a community college and get a two year degree as a electronics technician, an industrial mechanic, x-ray technician and a few others that pay well.   In any case, you had better stick with math and science.   Math and science will teach you critical thinking.    The unemployment rate for STEM is 2.5% so that should tell you something.  

Jan 29, 2013 8:03PM
Getting a degree in philosophy, music, sociology and other basket weaving careers is a waste of money.    You had better first go out and have a look at the jobs market.   Jobs are in the technical/science base fields.   
Jan 29, 2013 1:43PM
We only need so many marketers, personal trainers and idiot liberals in the world.
Jan 29, 2013 3:20PM
If the student is aware and self motivated, they will receive a quality education. The more they input, the more they will benefit. The problem is that those who cruised through too often end up hiring folks and their lack of follow through denies quality prospects. 
Jan 30, 2013 3:55PM

Is this the abstract? This article assumes that the schools are teaching the students a skill. If so, what are those skills as well as what are the skills that employers, you can group them however you want, are looking for? Mr. Minarik, what are these requisite skills? Where can they be found?


And why is it a poor idea to promote not going to college if they are not teaching you skills needed in the work force, or at the very least some skill that has a smaller chance of being outsoured? While it is good for a teacher to get a paycheck, what good is it to me to end up in debt with a poor skill set? That seems like another tax.

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