College Graduates Still Needed in Michigan

College Graduates Still Needed in Michigan
Detroit News Commentary
August 25, 2011

College graduates still needed in Michigan

by Glenn D. Mroz

At a time when everything in the United States seems to be in question, some are suggesting that we are in an "education bubble," and that too many students are going to college.

This is part of an interesting trend among commentators who probably already have a college education, suggesting that students won't get a financial return from their increasingly sizeable investment in higher education. (They ignore the fact that tuition is going up primarily because of reduced public support for higher education, but that's another story.)

Part of the argument is fueled by anecdotes of people who made it big without going to or finishing college. The story almost inevitably turns to a graduate who is working in a job where he or she needs no degree — bartender is a popular option.

It's hard to understand where this anti-education feeling is coming.
America — and Michigan — needs every college graduate it can get, today and, especially tomorrow.

A recent Georgetown University report said the U.S. has been under-producing college-going workers since 1980. The study found that supply has failed to keep pace with demand.

It's not always been that way. From 1915 to 1980, supply grew at 3.1 percent and demand in the marketplace grew at 2.9 percent. Relatively balanced.

Since 1980, demand has been growing at 2 percent. But supply is only increasing at 1.5 percent.

Working from the premise that this supply-demand equation is driven by the market the authors compared the earnings of those who have gone to college versus those who did not.

The result is a large and growing gap in the earnings of college-educated workers over those with a high school education. It was 40 percent in 1980. Today, it's 74 percent. If we continue to under-produce, the projection is that the difference will grow to 96 percent by 2025.

Besides the fact that a college education provides the means to earn more money, there is also a growing employment gap. The June 2011 unemployment figures for the U.S. by educational attainment show that for those with less than a high school education, unemployment is 14.3 percent. With high school and no college: 10 percent. College or an associate's degree: 8.4 percent. For those with a four-year degree or more: 4.4 percent.

Michigan Future just reviewed job creation data and found that virtually all the job losses in the recent recession were in low-education industries. The vast majority of the growth in the last two years has been in industries where a college degree is required.

So what about that bartender story and Michigan Tech, the university I'm privileged to help run? I can't tell you there isn't at least one of our grads out there tending bar. I know a few who operate their own breweries.
It would seem that the market speaks volumes on the Michigan Tech campus, and on university campuses around Michigan. No bubble here.

Glenn D. Mroz is president of Michigan Technological University and chairman of the Presidents Council State Universities of Michigan. 

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