The Overeducated and underemployed Crisis


More Evidence for the Overeducated and Underemployed Crisis

Tom Sticht                                                                                                                                                                                                           International Consultant in Adult Education

Another report came out Monday, March 25th, 2013 indicating that our higher education system is graduating more college graduates than there are jobs with the need for college graduate level knowledge and skills. The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) report is consistent with earlier reports I posted on January 28, 2013 in a note entitled U. S. Adult Literacy Surplus Continues to Grow. In that note I cited an article from USA Today reporting that ”Nearly half of working Americans with college degrees are in jobs for which they're overqualified, a new study out Monday suggests. The study, released by the non-profit Center for College Affordability and Productivity, says the trend is likely to continue for newly minted college graduates over the next decade.”

On the Huffington Post education pages an article was posted 03/26/2013 commenting on the NBER report released Monday the 25th, 2013. The Huffington Post  article is entitled:  “Young College Grads Could Be Stuck With Their Dead-End Jobs Or Worse: Study”. It states that research indicates that 48 percent of recent college graduates are working in jobs that do not require that level of education and worse, around 38 percent are working in jobs that do not require a high school diploma! Further, the demand for graduates with technical degrees is also shrinking.

The NBER report entitled “The Great Reversal in the Demand for Skill and Cognitive Tasks” reports in the abstract that: quote “What explains the current low rate of employment in the US? While there has been substantial debate over this question in recent years, we believe that considerable added insight can be derived by focusing on changes in the labor market at the turn of the century. In particular, we argue that in about the year 2000, the demand for skill (or, more specifically, for cognitive tasks often associated with high educational skill) underwent a reversal. Many researchers have documented a strong, ongoing increase in the demand for skills in the decades leading up to 2000. In this paper, we document a decline in that demand in the years since 2000, even as the supply of high education workers continues to grow. We go on to show that, in response to this demand reversal, high-skilled workers have moved down the occupational ladder and have begun to perform jobs traditionally performed by lower-skilled workers. This de-skilling process, in turn, results in high-skilled workers pushing low-skilled workers even further down the occupational ladder and, to some degree, out of the labor force altogether. ”end quote

All of this would seem to lead to a reassessment of using scarce Adult Education and Literacy System (AELS) dollars, i.e., those funded through Title 2 of the Workforce Investment Act, for preparing undereducated adult learners for postsecondary education. Instead, there would seem to be a need to refocus more effort and what limited resources the AELS has on serving the truly educational needy, i.e., those without English language skills and those without a high school diploma and with skills so low that they are unlikely to be able to learn from GED prep books from Barnes & Noble or other self-study materials. This adult basic education focus is what the original Adult Education Act had when it specified programs for those without 8th grade level abilities.

With the present interest in providing contextualized and integrated basic skills, workforce skills (workplace literacy), and parenting skills (family literacy), attention focused on the least capable could more readily prepare adults for credentialed jobs and for parenting which would reduce the need to provide remedial education in preschools for the children of the seriously undereducated adult parents.

Apparently, the higher education credentialing process is leading to an excess of academically educated adults who are having difficulty finding employment. In this workforce context, the adult basic education provider might provide a more useful service by working with vocational educators developing programs leading to functional literacy and job skills that are immediately useful in various career sectors.

In the future, actual competence may come to outweigh academic credentials in obtaining well-paying jobs.