The national debate over student loan debt has almost obscured a more basic question; will people need college degrees in the future?  The research is clear.  College graduates earn significantly more money during their careers, are more likely to be employed and quicker to find new jobs than those without degrees.  Graduates are also more likely to have pensions and health insurance, and less likely to draw on public assistance.

College graduates, the studies show, not only have higher levels of general knowledge than non-graduates, but also greater ability to think critically, higher levels of verbal and quantitative skills, more self-confidence and more highly developed leadership skills. They’re also more likely to exercise, vote, participate in the political process, give blood and volunteer—and less likely to smoke, abuse substances or suffer family violence.

A Georgetown University study entitled, “Recovery: Job Growth and Educational Requirements through 2020,” examines the job requirements going forward.  See the chart below:


In 1973, more than 70% of all jobs in the U.S. Economy were held by people with high school diplomas–or less.  By 2020, this study suggests, nearly 70% of all jobs will require some post-secondary training.  This reflects a very significant change.   Back in 1973, nine percent of all jobs required a bachelor’s degree.  By 2020, that number is expected to reach 24%.

Baby boomer retirements will change the workforce.  According to this study, 56% of the 55 million jobs filled between now and 2020 will be replacements for retiring boomers.  The other 44%, will be entirely new, jobs that don’t exist today.

Twenty years ago, there were very few web designers around. We didn’t hear about “Chief Information Officers” or social networking sites.  Ten years ago, I knew nothing about “social marketing.”  Today, people with social marketing skills and experience are in very high demand.  In the same way, the future will bring new professions requiring skills that we haven’t yet identified.

Of the 55 million job openings to be filled between 2010 and 2020, nearly two-thirds will require some post-secondary education.  That places those with only high school diplomas (or less) at a serious disadvantage.  They will compete for a relatively small proportion of the jobs going forward.

A college degree is certainly no guarantee of success; it’s not a sufficient condition for meaningful employment.  However, this study suggests, the absence of postsecondary training will be a disqualifier in a growing number of areas.

The growth of the information economy means that people entering the work force will need 21st century skills.  Holding certificates and degrees, will become an even more essential for those competing for positions in the future.

Today, some observers are telling potential students that post-secondary training is unnecessary.  Unfortunately, they’re setting young people up for failure.  The Georgetown study is very clear; postsecondary education matters!


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