College grads have to settle for lesser jobs


The period from 1990 to 2005 will see 19.8 million college graduates entering the labor force.

What does the future look like for them?

Though education is essential in a workplace with rapidly changing technology, a new government study comes to the alarming conclusion that 30 percent of the graduates may have to settle for jobs that don't require a college degree.

Though economist Kristina J. Shelley emphasizes that the majority -- 70 percent -- of college grads will find jobs in which they can use their educational backgrounds, her federal study of supply and demand shows that college graduates in the 1990s and early 2000s will face a more competitive job market than graduates did in the 1980s.

Job opportunities in this decade for college graduates are projected at 602,000. Of that number, 311,000 will be new jobs, with upgrading of existing jobs accounting for the rest.

"The decrease in jobs for college graduates has been going on for two decades," said Ms. Shelley, who works in the office of employment projections for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Many workers without a degree but who are in occupations with potential to be upgraded to college level will still be on the job in 2005. It's unlikely they will be laid off to make room for college graduates."

Two factors drive the study: Economic growth will be slower in the coming decade than in the 1980s, and the number of bachelor's degrees awarded will be higher.

Ms. Shelley's conclusion: Underutilization of college graduates will continue to "worsen."

The study, published in the Occupational Outlook Quarterly and the Monthly Labor Review, shows that 29 million workers with four or more years of college education were employed in 1990 -- and more than 23 million held jobs requiring a four-year diploma. Half worked as executives, administrators and professional specialists. Other major employment groups were technicians, sales representatives and supervisors.

"Jobs continue to be created for college graduates, but if you are planning to go to college, it is wise to select your career carefully," said Ms. Shelley. The economist, whose son is a college music major, adds that if there's something you love, major in it, "even though you might not automatically walk into a college-level job."

For the last two decades, graduates with MBAs have been the bellwether of the employment market.It's therefore significant that a recent survey of 1991-1992 graduates of the University of Chicago's Graduate School of Business indicates that the secret to professional success in this decade is to be highly trained and skilled in your field.

The study of 336 of the 570 new MBAs from the school shows that 80 percent had jobs by July. It's anticipated that 95 percent will be employed by the end of this year.

"There were still more jobs being offered than students to fill them, but fewer than before," said Jeanne J. Husain, director of the school's career services. "Employers definitely are constrained . . . because of the economy, but they still value the education our students get."

Financial services companies hired 40.2 percent of the MBA graduates from the U. of C. Overall, 49.1 percent of the new MBAs work in financial functions across industries.

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