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Study: More College-educated Workers Needed for U.S. Workforce

America needs 20 million more college-educated workers over the next 14 years to sustain healthy economic growth in the U.S., according to a study released this week.

The study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW) contends this goal must be achieved for several reasons: It will add $500 billion annually to the nation’s gross domestic product as well as more than $100 billion annually in tax revenue while reversing the growth of income inequality.

The center’s 48-page report called “The Undereducated American” also highlights the fact that, “over the past 30 years, the demand for college-educated workers has outpaced supply,” resulting in the underproduction of college graduates during that period. The trend has seen a growing income disparity between those with college degrees and high school graduates, the report claims. 

Co-authors Dr. Anthony P. Carnevale and Dr. Stephen J. Rose calculated that college graduates earn 74 percent more in income than high school graduates in the U.S. If the nation fails to produce enough college-educated workers by 2025, the income differential will widen to 96 percent, according to the report.

Rose said Monday in an interview with Diverse that there aren’t specific calculations on how much the country would have to invest in hiring more post-secondary employees.

“In the short term, it is going to cost you money. But we think it is worth it in the long term,” said Rose, a research professor at the center and a labor economist. “The United States has been a leader of spending money on education for its young people and in the past it has been a remarkably good choice. The thing is, because it worked so well in the past, other countries are certainly doing [investing on education]. If we don’t keep up, we are likely to go backward and have negative consequences.”

Dr. Lorenzo L. Esters, vice president of the Office for Access and the Advancement of Public Black Universities at the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities in Washington, praised the study for outlining the urgency of ensuring all Americans receive post-secondary education.

“There are those who will question the logic behind the suggestion that more individuals should earn degrees given high unemployment rates right now. However, the data are clear that the unemployment rate for those without a degree is almost twice as high as it is for those with a degree,” Esters said. “The global economy demands a well-educated citizenry. Certainly, the U.S. should lead that effort.”

Although Dr. Sandy Baum, an economics professor at Skidmore College and a senior policy analyst at the College Board, agrees with the authors’ premise to invest in education, competing with other countries should not be the main objective, she says.

“That may be an important way of motivating people, but the most important issue is we educate people more successfully and meet the needs of our economy,” said Baum, an independent policy analyst for the College Board based in New York.

In their report, the scholars state that college-educated employees rose by 3.1 percent a year between 1915 and 1990.

According to the report, the percentages started to change after 1990 because “the education of retirees was progressively higher and the difference between the educational levels of new entrants and that of retirees shrank.”

“Consequently, from 1990 to 2000, the supply of college-educated workers rose by just 2 percent a year and fell to 1 percent per year from 2000 to 2010,” the report states.

The demand for skilled workers between 1950 and 2005 grew by nearly 4 percent annually, according to the report.

“These numbers demonstrate that increasing demand for more skilled workers has a long, consistent history and is not solely based on the more recent history of rising computerization,” the scholars write in the report. “More postsecondary education will achieve not only a more dynamic and vibrant economy, but a more equitable society.”

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