Are We Educating People Into Poverty? The Workforce Development and Utilization Dilemma

Dec 16, 2009 by

Adult Education (NCSDAE) published in November 2009 a report entitled:
Adult Education: Supporting the President’s Workforce and Graduation
Initiatives. The report is introduced with the statement:
Quote” In an increasingly competitive world economy, America’s economic
strength depends upon the education and skills of its workers. In the
coming years, jobs requiring at least an associate degree are projected to
grow twice as fast as those requiring no college experience. To meet this
economic imperative, President Barack Obama asks every American to commit
to at least one year or more of higher education or career training and set
a new national goal: by 2020, America will once again have the
highest proportion of college graduates in the world. (White House, 2009)”
end quote
The report calls for more funding for adult education to help more adults
raise their basic skills and complete at least one or more years of
post-secondary education.
The same month, on November 2, 2009, the Associated Press presented an
article by Kristi Oloffson entitled College Degrees More Expensive, Worth
Less in Job Market. She states that, quote”Employers and career experts see
a growing problem in American society – an abundance of college graduates,
many burdened with tuition-loan debt, heading into the work world with a
degree that doesn’t mean much anymore….The problem isn’t just a soft job
market – it’s an oversupply of graduates. In 1973, a bachelor’s degree was
more of a rarity, since just 47% of high school graduates went on to
college. By October 2008, that number had risen to nearly 70%.”end quote
Oloffson goes on to quote a career and education expert at U.C. Berkeley who
thinks there are too many weakly skilled students who are getting college
degrees. Employers know this and think the college degree is not worth much
anymore. Apparently, so do many students. Oloffson reports that the
percentage of students saying they will pursue a master’s degree rose from
31percent in 1972 to 42 percent in 2008.
Consistent with the report by Oloffson, two years ago, on March 2007, I
wrote a research note entitled: Higher Education Credentials, Higher
Skills, and Lost Purchasing Power: A Dilemma for Workforce Development
Policy and Practice. In the note I reviewed research showing that in
constant 2005 dollars (“real income”) the mean lifetime earnings of 18 to
64 year old males in the United States declined from 1979 to 2004, except
for those with a Master’s Degree or higher. Based on these and other data,
I suggested that if more and more adults attain higher levels of education,
then in wages adjusted for annual inflation from 1979, there is likely to be
an additional drop in the lifetime wages for those with education up through
a Bachelor’s degree.
The research on increasing education with decreasing wages in real terms
suggests that in these hard economic times, there needs to be major efforts
at creating more higher-skilled, well-paying jobs. This is needed so that
the supply of better skilled workers that the Adult Education and Literacy
System (AELS) helps to transition into post-secondary vocational training
or college education does not exceed the number of jobs available that pay
family-supporting wages.
Without giving as much attention to how the supply of well-paying,
high-skilled jobs can be increased, we may well achieve the President’s
goal that: quote” by 2020, America will once again have the highest
proportion of college graduates in the world.”end quote But even if
America’s adults achieve this goal, they are also likely to be among the
world’s lowest paid, least self-sufficient, and most
government-welfare-dependent college graduates in the world.
As I said two years ago, this is truly a dilemma for workforce development
policy and practice. We don’t want to educate people into poverty.
Tom Sticht
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