Victoria Sauer never would have learned to stand on her own two feet without the college experience. However, new studies show that with the job market changing, a college degree might not be necessary.
College gives students the opportunity to explore career options through internships, shadowing, fairs and volunteering in addition to a wide variety of courses that can provide career direction. Students learn to co-exist and socialize with others from around the world and learn from professors with a variety of expertise. Access to a variety of people give college students the opportunity to learn about different cultures, religions, and personalities they may not have been exposed to otherwise, and which can broaden their knowledge and perspective.
Sauer, a Public Relations major at the University of Southern Mississippi, said going to a university has taught her life lessons. “You don’t live with your parents anymore so you have to learn to support yourself,” Sauer said.
According to Sauer, the most important thing she has learned is time management. “I had to learn to not try to do too many things at once, to not spread myself too thin,” Sauer said.
Sauer said whenever you have to make a decision by yourself you learn the consequences of your decisions. “It gives you the opportunity to prepare yourself for the real world. It’s good for a transitional period because you have the sense of responsibility and individuality before you are forced to accept that you have to completely take care of yourself.”
Whether students decide to undertake a certificate program, associate’s degree, or bachelor’s degree, learning responsibility can affect which job opportunities that they receive. The educational importance of college certainly means a lot, but the social experience, learning independence, becoming financially sound and showing responsibility are all important workplace skills attained through college, according Dr. Glenn Boyce, Associate Commissioner of Academic and Student Affairs at the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning.
Boyce said, “The students who fair best are the students who go to class, who show up on time, who don’t miss meeting and engage in organizations and clubs. All of this is a maturity process that gets you ready for the work place along with the knowledge base that you learn and are able to apply in your curriculum as well.”
Although life skills are important, according to Boyce, the importance of education isn’t just having a degree, but also understanding labor market demands for each field.
According to Richard Vedder, Director of Center for College Affordability and Productivity, statistics show that one in three college graduates have a job that can be performed by someone with a high school diploma, or the equivalent due to the growth rate of college graduates being higher than the number of jobs in fields that graduates earn a degree in.
Underemployment is a major issue with degree holders and can lead to defaults on their student loans. To counteract this financial toil, Boyce recommends looking to the labor market before enrolling in school.
According to Boyce, it is important for people to realize that the job market is open and the market retains higher education degrees better than other types of degrees, but that demand is relevant to location. Boyce said that graduates who are willing to search for jobs in other locations will have an easier time finding employment. It is important to have a degree in a demand field, and to be able to move to a location that has a demand for that job at that current time, according to Boyce.
“As you move up the ladder from high school graduate to associates graduate to a bachelor’s degree and even past a BA, there is significance in getting more education as far as your access to the labor force,” Boyce said.
According to job projections calculated by Georgetown University, approximately 63 percent of jobs will require some college education or a degree.
Boyce said America has reached a time where many businesses and companies who once required an associate’s degree now realize that they require a bachelor’s degree and pull from a highly-educated pool of candidates.
“There are still places that want you to have a degree because they can make a job description say ‘this job qualifies for a BA degree’ and if you have a good liberal arts background then that’s good enough for us because you have shown that you are trainable and we are more concerned that you are trainable than having a specific knowledge base for a corporation,” Boyce said.
However, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the 30 projected fastest growing jobs between 2010 and 2020, only six required a bachelor’s degree, and four required an associate’s degree.
Jones County Junior College’s Vice President of Marketing and Recruiting Finee’ Ruffin said the largest sectors for projected job growth in the state is construction related jobs and manufacturing.
“Skilled labor is what our local economies need to develop sustainable growth in the region we serve,” Finee’ said.
There are certificate programs for one-year and two-year programs that teach specific skills that are needed because of a labor shortage in these fields. Boyce said that certificate programs are gaining greater value at the bachelor’s level in various fields such as the computer and software industries. Certificates carry great weight inside of the business industry, according to Boyce.
“A graduate equipped with a two-year degree in a skilled trade will often times have more opportunities for employment available in the workforce than those graduating with a 4-year degree without skills training,” Finee’ said.
According to Finee’, skilled labor is lacking because of the connotation it has received over the years.
“One of the biggest hurdles students, parents, counselors and educators need to overcome is the stigma attached to skilled labor employment,” Finee’ said.
However, the technical fields in this nation are the fields of great employment opportunity for young people today, according to Boyce.
“The students who had jobs almost 100 percent of the time before they left the institutions were the welders, air conditioning, refrigeration folks, mechanics, and auto body specialists,” Boyce said. “All of those people were employed before they ever walked across the stage. Ultimately, they all were employed within six months after graduation.”
It takes someone willing to work hard to be successful in order to succeed at a trade job, but the end result is a business and career, according to Boyce.
“These students become the under-penny entrepreneurs of the nation because so many of them have the will power to work and desire to own their own company,” Boyce said.