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September 22, 2010 3:47 PM Job Projections vs. Job Projections

By Daniel Luzer

The Obama administration’s push to get more American students to graduate from college has received a great deal of press lately. But some people are concerned that in the push for more college graduates, “something doesn’t add up.” As Tim Johnson writes writes for the Burlington Free Press:

Why is the national need for more college graduates so desperate? So that the United States can stay competitive with other countries that are turning out large numbers of college graduates. And because so many more jobs of the future will require postsecondary degrees. This is where it gets puzzling, at least in Vermont’s case.

Vermont needs more college graduates, so the thinking goes, because 62 percent of the jobs available in Vermont at the end of the decade will require postsecondary degrees.

This information is based on an, admittedly quite rigorous, national study by Georgetown’s Anthony Carnevale.
But when one is trying to do local projections, it’s best to rely on local material. According to the article:

The trouble is, [Carnevale’s] numbers fly in the face of the Vermont Department of Labor’s own job projections. The jobs with the most openings through 2018, according to those projections, which rely on Bureau of Labor Statistics standards, are low-paying jobs that can be done by high school graduates or even dropouts. Of the 25 occupations expected to have the most openings through 2018, only four or five require a college degree. No. 1, for example, is cashiers, followed by personal and home-care aides and retail salespersons.

Vermont is, admittedly, a tiny state. It is not now, nor will it ever be, an economic powerhouse, but the concern mirrors something we see across the nation. American policymakers know the country should more college graduates, in part to help improve the economy and advance American economic productivity. Some projections indicate the U.S. will need more college graduates because the economy of the future will “demand” it. But what sort of demand are we really talking about?

If Vermont is any indication, some state statistics indicate that there really won’t be tons of future jobs requiring college educations. Information like that is going to make it awfully difficult to increase college completion. Some statistics say college is necessary. Others seem to say don’t bother.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer

Comments

  • Tomhilliard on September 23, 2010 9:41 AM:

    Carnevale actually addresses this point in "Help Wanted": p. 127, appendix 4. Basically, BLS methodology cannot be used to project educational attainment needs for two reasons.

    First, rising need for postsecondary attainment is driven by the changing composition of educational needs within sectors of the economy. But BLS holds that composition constant when projecting into the future. That's obviously a false assumption.

    Second, BLS assigns each occupation a single educational attainment requirement, sometimes based on the subjective judgment of BLS analysts. But most occupations reflect a mix of educational attainment levels, which the CEW report reflects.

    According to CEW, the BLS methodology results in undercounting the current demand for college graduates in America by 22 million adults. Vermont probably has better administrative data than CEW, but their methodology is not designed to do what CEW does.