Its that time of the year again, when students don the cap and gown and walk across the stage as newly minted college graduates. Having accomplished so much academically, their futures will be full of promise as they embark on their professional lives. They are ready to take on the world.
Except for the fact that many of them can't find a job.
Even though the job market for new college graduates is better than it has been in recent years, there is still a vast amount of unemployment and underemployment among college graduates. The unemployment rate for students graduating from college in 2014 was 12.4 percent. Nearly 45 percent of recent college graduates are working in jobs that don't require a bachelor's degree.
Moreover the problem of rising student debt continues to be unchecked. MarketWatch has reported that the average 2015 graduate is carrying about $35,000 in student loan debt, $2000 more than a 2014 graduate. Hardest hit are poor and minority students. Students receiving Pell Grants (usually from poor segments of the population) borrow at far higher rates than individuals from middle-income and high-income brackets.
Clearly, there are enough sad tales of debt and joblessness that country needs new solutions for addressing the problem of poor outcomes for college graduates.
What steps can be taken to eliminate the problem? One idea is a greater alignment between what students are learning and what employers are demanding. This mismatch, known as the skills gap, is large and real. In North Texas alone, there are an estimated 960,000 middle-skill jobs available, waiting to be filled by qualified talent. Imagine if all these jobs, and the skills necessary to obtaining them, could be listed on a database available to college students. Students could then tailor their course selection with a greater degree of specificity in order to obtain the jobs they want.
The other great option that America has neglected is community college and technical education. Community college costs less and has a shorter time of completion to get a credential. And contrary to popular opinion, many of the jobs connected to community college degrees are good jobs. One half of the STEM jobs in America don't require a bachelor's degree, and these jobs often pay much higher wages than jobs associated with degrees in areas like communications, psychology, marketing, or English. Technical degrees are also highly valuable, just look at this 24-year old Texan making $140,000 per year as a welder.
In fact, in many areas, new community college graduates are outearning bachelor's degree holders. Why is that? Its because the many community college degrees place an emphasis on skills like IT, nursing, or accounting that are immediately useful to employers. According to CareerBuilder.com (via CNNMoney), with a two-year community college degree, air traffic controllers can make $113,547, radiation therapists $76,627, dental hygienists $70,408, nuclear medicine technologists $69,638, nuclear technicians $68,037, registered nurses $65,853.
The key to getting students these jobs lies in new approaches to the traditional talent pipeline. Community college students must be able to see what courses they need to take to get these types of jobs, and employers must be able to broadcast the skills required for interested candidates to have. Data-driven tools for aligning students and jobs will reduce the high dropout rates at community colleges and also lower recruiting costs for employers.
In short, we can turn around the dismal numbers of underskilled, underemployed, and underpaid college graduates. We need more data to be publicly available on what skills are applicable to what jobs. We need to encourage more community college education, instead of expensive bachelor's degrees. And we need technological tools to pull together all the disparate elements of the education-employment spectrum, in order to increase upward mobility and ensure that graduates can walk across the stage with confidence.