Dear Friends and Colleagues,
As the Center has moved into directly working with states, we have been confronted with questions about how many college graduates the economy needs.
The evidence demonstrates clearly that the economic value of a college education has increased substantially and that the economy needs more college graduates, not fewer. However, we continue to encounter skepticism, primarily due to data published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) describing the minimum requirements for entering a given occupation. In isolation, the BLS’ entry-level education requirements suggest that the economy needs many fewer college graduates than the Center’s projections show.
The BLS data suggest that there are 22 million adults in this country who attained a college degree but didn’t need it. But the economy did need these college graduates, who earn an average of $55,000 a year, much more than the average high school graduate.
The fault does not lie with BLS but with the people who misuse their data. A top BLS official recently stated
that “the data produced on education and training requirements by BLS are not intended to gauge the need for higher education among future workers.”
The Center is the only public-facing body that projects workforce demands for postsecondary certificates and degrees. The BLS data, however, continues to be misinterpreted as projections that can negatively impact the growing number of states interested in setting goals for postsecondary credentials tied to labor market demand. For example, the state of Minnesota earlier this year set a statewide goal to increase the number of residents who hold postsecondary degrees or certificates to 70 percent by 2025. While 60 percent of the state’s workers already have some postsecondary credentials, the BLS data suggests that only 35 percent of workers need postsecondary education. This can’t be true, given the high attainment levels already existing in the state.
We have developed a table to help illustrate the differences between U.S. Census Bureau data, BLS data and CEW’s data for all 50 states. In all cases, our projections and the Census data show education levels that are twice as high as the BLS data. Check it out
The table shows clearly that the BLS data cannot be interpreted as goals for postsecondary educational attainment. We thank you for your attention in this matter and hope you find this newsletter informative.