How Much Education Is Enough? 5 Shocking Facts About Your Post-Grad Job Prospects
February 6, 2013

From my junior year of high school through the moment we all threw our tasseled mortar boards triumphantly in the air, the buzz was about what college we would attend. For the majority of my friends, college was a given. I was the first person in my family to graduate college, but that’s not to say my family isn’t successful. We’ve got auto mechanics that own their own shops, a taxidermist, a carpenter and a couple of postal workers among my parent’s generation that have done well for themselves. My dad and now my brother are elevator mechanics – this is a very high paying union protected job. My nephew is following in their footsteps and at 19 has bought his first home and is financially stable with no educational debt. My niece though is happily ensconced in a bachelor’s pre-med program, thrilled to be fulfilling her dream.

So my question is, how much education is enough? Do all high school graduates need to go to college? Are we over-educating ourselves and can we continue to afford to do so? With a trillion dollars in student debt outstanding and half of that deferred or delinquent, have we overextended ourselves to buy education we may not need? Here are 5 shocking facts that address these questions and will hopefully get you thinking about how our educational system works:

#1 There Are Not Enough Jobs for College Graduates

A recent study by non-profit Center for College Affordability and Productivity says there are far less jobs available that require college degrees than there are college graduates seeking employment. Labor Department data used by the study showed 28.6 million jobs available that required a college degree and 41.7 million degreed professionals available to fill them. That means that unless something changes, some 13 million workers are not getting their money’s worth out of their education.

#2 Many College Graduates Are Working in Jobs That Require a High School Diploma (or less)

Not only are 13 million degreed workers not going to land in a job that makes use of their bachelor’s or master’s degree, many will work in jobs where a high school diploma is likely optional. 15% of taxi drivers have college degrees, 25% of retail clerks have graduated college and 5% of janitors are college alumni. Study author Richard Vedder says, “There are going to be an awful lot of disappointed people because a lot of them are going to end up as janitors.” Wow!

#3 You May Be Able to Make As Much Or More As a Skilled Laborer

There are over 500,000 manufacturing jobs across the US sitting open and hundreds of thousands more skilled labor positions. These require on-the-job training rather than any formal education and experts predict this job segment will be booming over the next decade. The age of the average skilled manufacturing worker is 56, so within the next decade, this generation will phase into retirement, leaving a huge skills gap. Skilled jobs like these pay an average wage of around $25 per hour which equates to about $50,000 per year. Average wages for someone with a bachelor’s working in their field are just $59,000. And manufacturing jobs often come with union protection, great benefits and no student loan debt!

#4 You May Be Able to Make as Much or More With an Associate’s Degree

While the cost of four year colleges and universities has been on the rise, community college and trade school tuition have remained low cost alternatives. The highest earning careers you can launch with an associate’s degree are in healthcare, occupational trades and technology. A good indicator of the earning potential of a career path is how much science and math are involved in the program. Nurses, respiratory and radiation therapists, engineering and aviation jobs are among the high earning jobs you can get with just two years of school.

#5 The More Debt You Graduate With, The Less Your Effective Earnings Are

Bachelor’s degree graduates average $20,000 in student loan debt. At 6.8% interest, paying back over 10 years, the monthly payments would be $230. That’s $2,760 per year less in your pocket. When you are job hunting fresh out of university, the impact of your student loan debt is important to bear in mind. To optimize your debt and ensure you are paying in the most effective manner, consider consulting a student loan expert. Trade school and community college graduates emerge with drastically less debt, often just a few thousand dollars. Your wages will be effectively higher if you owe less debt!

If you’re in college or are excited about launching into your bachelor’s program, consider looking at ways to minimize your post-college debt such as making payments while in school, consolidating loans and looking for jobs (such as public service and high-need jobs) that offer debt forgiveness. But if you’re uncertain about what you would do with a four year degree, don’t assume you have to bend to academic protocol. An associate’s degree or skilled trade training can be very rewarding and are growth industries.