How to Avoid ‘Underemployment’ Which Adversely Affects 800,000 College Graduates Each Year

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York shows that each year, about 40% of college graduates are underemployed, meaning they are not able to get a job requiring a degree.

The Causes and Effects of Underemployment

You read that correctly! Each year, 40% (800,000 college graduates) cannot get a job requiring a 4-year degree. Instead, they are forced to take jobs only requiring a high school degree, (e.g., sales personnel, waiters, clerks, bartenders). These types of jobs earn far less than anticipated for college grads.

It is possible for any specific student to avoid this fate if they discover a good career and related major when they start college. Unfortunately, it is not possible for most of those 800,000 college grads to avoid being underemployed because of two factors.

  1. In the last 40 years, the number of degreed students has grown much faster than the number of jobs requiring a degree. Today, there simply are not enough jobs requiring a degree to satisfy all new graduates. Center for College Affordability and Productivity.
  2. More than 1/3 of college majors have underemployment rates over 50%. Sadly, that means more than half of all graduates in those majors will wind up with careers not requiring a college degree. Another 15% have underemployment rates above 40%. Federal Reserve Bank of NY

Making matters worse, many of these students require an average of more than 6 years to graduate from a ‘4-year’ college. Often, the extra 2 years is responsible for the majority of their student debt.

So, how do you avoid being a part of this sad statistic? By knowing a good career and related major before starting college.

A program to help college-bound students avoid the adverse effects of Underemployment

“Past and projected future growth in college enrollments and the number of graduates exceeds the actual or projected growth in high-skilled jobs, explaining the development of the underemployment problem and its probable worsening in future years”

“The proportion of overeducated workers in occupations appears to have grown substantially; in 1970, fewer than one percent of taxi drivers and two percent of firefighters had college degrees, while now more than 15 percent do in both jobs” Center for College Affordability and Productivity

PATH2 has developed a program that allows students to discover a career (and related major) that is in high demand and one they will be good at and passionate about. The results allow students to:

  • Enjoy studying topics they are good at and passionate about.
  • Get solid internships that are necessary to get hired into a good job at graduation.
  • To graduate in 4 years with little or no debt.
  • Avoid the high levels of stress that occur on students that change majors 2 or more times because they 1) do not enjoy school work they are not good at it or 2) realize it will require 1 or 2 extra years to graduate with substantial student debt.

The program assures their best career satisfies:

  1. The student’s 5 key personal characteristics (Personality, Aptitude, Areas of Interests, Work Preferences, and Natural Traits.)
  2. Four very important career characteristics:

The level of education they are willing to pursue.
The salary that they would be satisfied with.
The growth rate that will assure stability for the foreseeable future.
Activities they would feel passionate about.

This Ikigai diagram shows how the personal and career characteristics combine to discover a career they will be happy and successful in.

It is easy to see why knowing a career that is in demand and something you will be good at and passionate about is key to finding the best career and minimizing the potential of becoming an underemployed college graduate.

An Alternative Approach

“There are a variety of associate degree jobs that pay as much or even more than those requiring a four-year degree.” Great Value Colleges

If a student is not able to confidently determine a career and major that would assure they could avoid underemployment, they may be better off avoiding the 4-year college altogether.

They could have less risk pursuing a 2-year Associates Degree or a Trade Certificate in an area they would be good at and happy in.

Example Associate Degree careers with high growth rates and salaries that are equal to or greater than the mean salary for a bachelor’s degree are:

  • Radiation Therapist
  • Makeup Artist
  • Dental Hygienist
  • Biomedical Technician
  • Fashion Designer
  • Radiation Therapist
  • Painters, Sculptors, and Illustrator

Examples for Trade Certificates with salaries comparable to the mean salary for a 4-year degree are:

  • Software Developer
  • Plumber
  • Makeup Artist
  • Web Developer
  • Beauty Specialists
  • Elevator Mechanic
  • Wind Turbine Technician
  • Skin Care Specialist
  • Dental Hygienist

Also, it is relatively easy for specialists with Associate and Trade careers to establish their own practices or companies. This option can result in salaries much higher than typical incomes for most 4-year college graduates.

The PATH2 program includes evaluation of 2-year Associate degrees and Trade careers and allows for direct comparisons with 4-year degree alternatives.

This article also appears on Dr. Ellison's Medium blog