Do Employers Overestimate the Value of a College Degree?

"It's dinnertime, and a teenager is seated with her immediate family. She looks around—everyone has at least a college degree and a stable job. What to look for in a college and what to major in and how to become a doctor are the topics of tonight's dinner conversation. Elsewhere, another high-schooler is seated with her younger brother chomping down on the meal she struggled to put together for the two of them. Her parents are away, working their second or third jobs. The girl is mulling over how to make money quickly and contribute to her family's household," The Atlantic reports.

"People in that second example typically lack a reliable means for entering the workforce outside of traditional college—and college can’t address everyone’s needs, especially those who have immediate fiscal obligations. Apprenticeships could be one solution. Apprenticeship programs enjoy bipartisan support, with the Democratic Obama administration investing millions of dollars in them and the Republican Trump administration prioritizing their expansion; Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has expressed support for skills-training programs, too, including apprenticeships.

Apprenticeships are programs that combine on-the-job training with classroom instruction about the job at hand. Participants also make money while they learn new skills, which means that, unlike college graduates, apprentices can learn and gain new skills without going into debt. Additionally, 87 percent of apprentices end up with a job after their program. Yet just 5 percent of Americans participated in apprenticeships in 2014, compared, for example, to 60 percent of Germans.

The United States has plenty of room for more apprenticeship programs, according to a new study co-published by Harvard Business School and the labor-market analytics firm Burning Glass Technologies. While apprenticeships in the country are relatively common in 27 different occupations—mostly concentrated in construction and extraction (i.e., mining)—it is possible to develop them in nearly 50 others, the report, which was co-authored by Harvard’s Joe Fuller and Burning Glass’s Matthew Sigelman, said.

If apprenticeship programs were expanded to 74 occupations total, they conclude, people without college degrees could’ve had the opportunity to fill 3.3 million of last year’s 23.4 million job openings. Some of the jobs that could be opened up to apprentices include those as billing and shipping clerks, chefs, head cooks, and nuclear medical technologists; the average salary is about $55,000 for college graduates in those positions now, according to the study.

New companies are often discouraged by the initial costs of creating apprenticeship programs, which include those needed to set up a process for identifying and interviewing candidates, to provide the actual training, and to pay the apprentice’s salary. Many companies see these new expenditures as unnecessary fees that add on to the money they’re already spending on their full-time employees."

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Publication Date: 12/5/2017

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