value of college degrees

Posted: August 24, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

Are you or a friend having trouble finding a job?  Normally, I’m an optimist and try to recommend finding a different way to get the job you want.  In some fields, however, we need to admit that there is a surplus of qualified applicants, which not only means that jobs will be harder to find.  It will also mean that pay rates will be lower.

Many schools are pushing professional certificates and degrees for fields that have more employees than open positions.  In healthcare, a surplus of employees means that more employers are using a “registry” model to take advantage of this situation.  Registry means that there is no guarantee of hours and limited/no benefits.  Another client is a lawyer who is working at a contract firm because that is what he wants to do.  For several of his less experienced co-workers, that is the only job they can find.  A friend in social services told me today that some firms are employing licensed clinicians at less than $35,000 a year.  How can they do that?  So many agencies have closed that there is a glut of employees who will work at a slashed salary.

What can you do to stay out of this situation?  Do some thorough research before you pursue a graduate degree or professional certificate.  Schools tend to speak a language of hope.  They are confident that you will find a job.  Don’t trust the happy talk.  Check current job postings and forecasts for growth.  Try to interview experienced professional already working in the field.  Ask this simple question: Would you go into this field if you were starting your career now?

I am not recommending that anyone avoid a certain type of profession.  Talented, committed people will always find a way to succeed. At the same time, it pays to think about how difficult it will be to get a job once you’ve completed a course of study.  Don’t invest your hard earned time and money if there is not a clear return on the investment.

Posted: July 31, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

I’ve written about these topics before, but two recent client comments told me that it might be time to look at them again.  One client who has been working in fields that are below his skill level told me that his humanities degree was “worthless.”  I reminded him that most Americans (fewer than 35%) have college degrees.  Employers look at college degrees as a marker of knowledge and discipline.  Many value applicants with humanities degrees because they tend to be better thinkers and often have better communication skills.  Rather than look at his degree as “worthless,” I persuaded my client that it will help him find a job.

Today a client who just graduated from a science program told me that she had no experience.  Almost every new graduate feels the same way.  What they forget is the value of knowledge.  School teaches us concepts that we will use on the job.  Most programs also offer some kind of hands-on experience in the classroom, labs, or internships.  The client who claimed to have no experience actually worked in labs for four years while pursuing her degree.  She used equipment and performed tests that were listed on every job post she brought as examples of jobs she wished to pursue.  Experience does not only come on the job.  It can come in a classroom, lab, or field exercise.  If you’re a new graduate, start by looking at what the employer needs and how your education has given you knowledge and skill needed to be a strong candidate.

If you’re a new graduate, don’t despair about a weak degree or lack of experience.  Be practical and find a way to market what you learned in college.  It has value.

Posted: June 14, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

The Chicago Tribune reports on the value of their degrees.  Most workers hired recently were high school graduates.  Government forecasts say that the areas of greatest hiring will not require degrees. 

Enough scare tactics.  Every time there is high unemployment there will be stories like this one.  Over time, college graduates earn more than high school graduates.  People with graduate degrees have higher salaries than those with undergraduate degrees.  There is no reason why that trend should change once this period of high unemployment is over.

The media loves this kind of story.  However, it makes no sense.  If most people could make a good living without going to college, they would do so.  Most managerial positions require an undergraduate degree.  Many professionals need graduate or professional degrees.  When enrollment at colleges decline, then we can talk about the declining value of college degrees.  Until that time, stories like this one are entertainment (Jerry Springer style) pretending to be news.