The Great College Degree Scam

Approximately 60 percent of the increase in the number of US college graduates from 1992 to 2008 worked in jobs that the US Bureau of Labour Statistics (BLS) considers relatively low skilled -- occupations where many participants have only high school diplomas and often even less. Only a minority of the increment in our nation's stock of college graduates is filling jobs historically considered as requiring a bachelor's degree or more, according to Richard Vedder, a distinguished professor of economics at Ohio University.

The exact numbers are broken down as follows:

  • In 1992 the BLS reports that total college graduate employment was 28.9 million, of whom 5.1 million were in occupations which the BLS classified as "noncollege level jobs."
  • In 2008 the BLS data indicate that total college graduate employment was 49.35 million, with 17.4 million in occupations classified as requiring less than a bachelor's degree.

    An example is useful.

  • In 1992 119,000 waiters and waitresses were college degree holders.
  • By 2008, this number had more than doubled to 318,000.
  • While the total number of waiters and waitresses grew by about 1 million during this period, 20 percent of all new jobs in this occupation were filled by college graduates.

    The data suggest a horrible decline in the productivity of American education in that the "inputs" used to achieve any given human capital (occupational) outcome have expanded enormously -- more simply, it takes about 18 years of schooling for persons to get an education to do jobs that a generation or two ago people did with 12-13 years of education, says Vedder.

    Source: Richard Vedder, "The Great College Degree Scam," Chronicle of Higher Education, December 9, 2010.

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    FMF Policy Bulletin / 21 December 2010

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