1 in 2 College Graduates Unemployed or Underemployed

If you, like a number of my students, are graduating from college in the upcoming months, you’re not going to like this post. An Associated Press analysis of government data reports that half of college graduates are either jobless or are underemployed, holding positions as retail clerks or waitresses that do not require a college degree.

Students who major in the sciences, education and health fields generally fare better in the job market, although one of those interviewed by the Associated Press, Kelman Edwards, was a biology major but, after searching for work in that area for five months, was only able to find a job in construction. Edwards says that he had thought his major was a “gold ticket” for getting him jobs; he is about $5,500 in debt, a significant sum but actually much less than is the case for a number of my students.

Debt from student loans — now totaling more than $1 trillion — is one of the main factors many graduating seniors are wary of applying to graduate school, however much they think, or they are told, a Master’s or additional degree might enhance their career prospects.

Humanities Majors Least Likely To Find Jobs Related To Their Education

Students majoring in zoology, anthropology, philosophy, art history and humanities were the least likely to find jobs appropriate to their education. Those who studied nursing, teaching, accounting or computer science degrees were the most likely. In general, undergraduates who majored in the arts and humanities have had the greatest challenge finding positions in their fields, a finding again borne out by my own experience. I have very, very few students who major in my academic discipline, Classics. All three who did in the past seven years have become teachers, with only one so far now holding a full-time job teaching position.

The Associated Press‘s analysis also describes how technological changes since 2000 have eliminated, and will eliminate still more, midlevel jobs such as bank tellers. “Lower-skilled” positions such as that of home health care aide, positions in the fast food industry and truck driving — all of which are not as easily replaced by computers — are where most of the future job openings will be.

Are Colleges and Universities Failing to Prepare Students For Future Jobs?

Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University who analyzed the data, says bluntly that “we’re failing kids coming out of college.” Harvard economist Richard Freeman even discounts what has been held as common knowledge, that going to college means you will make more money on average.

As a professor of Greek and Latin literature and languages — very much a humanities person — I have to say, such data and seeing the jobs that my students have found themselves in, leads me to think that we educators need to take a hard look at what we are teaching students; at how we advise students regarding their majors and their future career prospects. I believe the liberal arts are the foundation of a college education. But, in this day and age, is a humanities major the best choice for a student with five-digit loan payments? Is it possible to encourage students to study what they love — poetry, for instance — while still directing them to a major that might lead to a career that uses some of their skills (a love of writing, perhaps)?

The Associated Press cites David Neumark, an economist at the University of California-Irvine, who says that “employers tend to value bachelor’s degree-holders more highly than high-school graduates, paying them more for the same work and offering promotions.” Having a bachelor’s degree can give you a boost in the job market — but if this is primarily to get a job that doesn’t (on paper) require a college degree, what is a college degree really worth anymore?


Related Care2 Coverage

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30 Percent of Americans Have a College Degree

Should Everyone Really Go To College?



Photo by Rennett Stowe

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Joe B.
Joe B.3 years ago

Hey graduates, we've created a web site for you to post your resume at and get found. And we have new, relevant jobs that are being posted every day. Check out www.bamamba.com. We created it for you - BA, MA, MBA's. Go now and post your resume and let's get you employed!

Samantha Hodder
Sam Hodder3 years ago

Yep. Same situation in Canada.

Eternal Gardener
Eternal Gardener3 years ago

Sad,sad, sad situation...let the 1% solve this...!

Eric L.
Eric L.3 years ago

I suppose the world has enough people with BA degrees. Do the work and get a sweet-ass BS (yes it's hard) and get a job when you graduate. Nobody cares what you think, but they will pay you for what you can do.

J C Bro
J C Brou3 years ago


Janice M.
Janice Ma3 years ago

My son has a BS (BA? I'm not sure) in Food Science, the same in Environmental Science, a MA in Elem Ed and he's working part time at REI. Maybe the masters in Elem Ed handicaps him (they'd have to pay him more), I don't know. He wanted to go for a BA but the college said it had to be a MA. He's tried several different areas of the country, can't find a teaching job anywhere. Nothing wrong in his background. He's middle aged, happily married, half Chinese, speaks Chinese. Why can't he find a teaching job?

Marilyn L.
Marilyn L.3 years ago

One of our daughters obtained an undergrad degree in International Relations. What she found out was her BS degree would not get her a job in her field; she was told she needed a Masters to get a job and a PhD to get a good one in her field. Unfortunately she abandon her dream of working oversea in France and went to law school, at least she chose environmental law. Our other daughter fair better getting her undergrad in biology but was told she could go no further until she went on to grad school. I think this is becoming true in most specialty non-business professions.

If I had to do it over again I would get an undergrad in Humanities and a Master’s in something I was interested in and would get me a well paying job. This, in my humble opinion, is the best way to get a well rounded classic education and also gives one time to see what profession they would like to have a career. It has also been said that even businesses like to see graduates with undergrad in Humanities and an MBA; shows more critical thinking abilities and a more well-rounded education.

Ron B.
Ron B.3 years ago

A star to Donna H. Jobs, like all resources in a finite world, are also finite. Growth has to stop sometime whether we want to face reality or not.

LARRY H.3 years ago

I hate the fact that it is so hard for college grads to find jobs, but this is nothing new, especially for minority graduates. I know as a young black graduating with a BA in the early 70's, it was hard to find a job, much less a good paying one. Most of the good paying jobs went to the white graduates, or to graduates who already had an in, due to family influence. To be fair thid didn't only happen to minority graduates, but also to whites who didn't already have an inside track, but even those white graduates tended to do better than minority students. The job market is tough now, but it has been for a long time.

Colleen J.
Colleen J.3 years ago

I'm not really surprised. I despair of ever doing anything official with my own degree, let alone landing a decent job in this economy.
For the moment I've decided to make my own job- http://www.etsy.com/shop/PatchworkLaboratory
I may not make a ton of money, but at least I'm using my degree and working for myself. Isn't that the best any artist could hope for in a society that consistently devalues art unless it's being used to sell consumer items?
At least I was lucky enough to get some grants and pay the remainder off quickly. [I graduated nearly a decade ago.]