Dr. Matthew Ladner


America needs to invest more financial resources to help address a looming shortage of college graduates needed for the high-tech economy of tomorrow. Or do we?

Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, current chair of the National Governor’s Association, used her 2008 State of the State address to call for doubling the number of college graduates in Arizona by 2020. Napolitano proposed paying the tuition for students who graduate high school with a B average to accomplish this goal.

“We must recognize that higher education is something that all Arizona children will need to succeed,” stated Governor Napolitano.

In the Carnegie Foundation’s publication Change, Paul Barton wrote that the notion that the U.S. has a dire need for an ever increasing number of college graduates is a myth. “Confusion about the demand for college graduates runs throughout discussions of national workforce needs,” Barton wrote.

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, only 29 percent of all jobs actually required a degree in 2004. The Bureau projects that of the top ten occupations with the largest growth from 2004 to 2014, seventy percent won’t require a college education.

Interestingly, the U.S. Department of Education's National Education Longitudinal Study reports that 40 percent of its sample attained a two- or four-year degree or higher. Therefore, many people with college degrees have jobs that don’t require them. So it really might be true when your cabbie says he has a Ph.D.

Barton’s clear-eyed presentation of the data reveals a job market far more complex than simply an unmet demand for college-educated job applicants. For example, proponents of greater higher education funding often point to an increasing wage gap between the college educated and those who aren’t.

Barton, however, notes that the wage gap is due largely to the falling earnings of high-school graduates and dropouts rather than to higher earnings for college graduates.

Dr. Matthew Ladner

Dr. Matthew Ladner is vice president of research for the Goldwater Institute and an expert on educational reform and school choice. Dr. Ladner holds a Ph.D. from the University of Houston.
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