How Many Truly Need a Four-Year College Degree?

Every day brings more news about the challenges businesses expect to face filling jobs as baby boomers continue marching toward retirement. Some of those opportunities require a traditional four-year college degree, but not as many as you might expect.Grad

That’s just one of the takeaways from American Experiment’s initiative focusing on great jobs that do not require a four-year degree. The Center’s Kathy Kersten recently wrote a column on the program for the Bloomington Sun Current and sister publications.

Many families would probably approach their teenagers’ post-secondary planning differently if they knew two key facts. Here’s the first: about 49 percent of young Minnesotans enter a four-year college after high school, but only 22 percent of jobs in our state require a bachelor’s degree or more.

In other words, there is a striking disconnect between the educational requirements of the jobs in demand and the educational pursuits of our state’s young people. Consider this: a quarter of all bartenders in Minnesota have a four-year college degree. More than 100,000 college-educated Minnesotans are working as retail salespeople, waiting tables, and working as maids and janitors — all jobs that require a high school degree or less — according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

In her column Kersten touches on the debt needlessly accumulated by many students who often may not need a conventional college degree for their choice in career. Parents and students alike may also be pleasantly surprised to learn that many skilled labor jobs pay more than they might think.

Career-preparation pathways like two-year associate’s degrees, apprenticeships, and certificates can enable young people to get a fulfilling, well-paying job fast, avoid crippling debt, and be assured of a strong future in an in-demand industry — with the opportunity to build on that education going forward, sometimes at their employer’s expense.

In some cases, young people who choose these routes — becoming, say, plumbers, electrical power line installers, power plant operators, nurses, medical sonographers, or dental hygienists — can earn significantly more than they would with certain college degrees.

You can find out more about American Experiment’s “Great Jobs Without a Four-Year Degree” initiative and where to get more information on education alternatives in Kersten’s complete column here.