Op-Ed: Higher Education Is Still the Most Sure-Footed Route to Employment, Career and Financial Success

Graduation Caps

The Facts Don’t Lie

One of the pleasures of being part of a great educational institution is that I learn from colleagues. Professor Shaun Dougherty from UConn’s Neag School of Education recently published an article in The Conversation that was featured in UConn Today titled, “Want a Job? It’s Still about Education.” She reminds us of some glaring facts that have recently been lost in some of the debates about whether college is worth the investment.

You can read her article here.

She puts flesh on the bones of the debate, but the essence is that “education continues to be the cornerstone of job preparation and success.” Lower levels of education, that would have gotten someone securely into the middle class some 60 years ago, no longer will. But it remains true that education is still “one of the strongest predictors of whether someone is employed and how much he or she is paid.”

She cites evidence on the compensation side to indicate that since 2007, wages for those who did not graduate from college are down two percent or more, while wages for college graduates have risen over four percent. The gap is widening.

The U.S. Labor Department issued another of its regular reports on unemployment rates on Sept. 1. While employment rose, the unemployment rate also rose, slightly. But the interesting issue is results by educational attainment and that picture is stark. The Employment Situation — August 2017

The unemployment rate is much lower for college-educated people, at 2.7 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis versus 7.3 percent for those with less than a college degree. This is a long-standing differential. As Professor Dougherty notes, it is worsening. As troubling as unemployment rates are, note further that those without high school degrees do not participate in the labor force at nearly the same rate. Fewer than 50 percent of those without a high school diploma are in the labor force, while more than 72 percent of those with college degrees are.

There are many additional questions. What should one study? Where should one attend college? How much can the family afford? These are important questions, but unless you are Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates, college is a good starting point.

A colleague recently lamented that one can no longer earn his or her way through school by working in summer and during the school year. Probably true. I was able to largely do that, back in the day. In summers, I worked construction and then was a “window man” at McDonald’s at night, selling burgers. It wasn’t glamorous, but I learned a great deal about showing up on time, doing the job and working with others.

For clarity, I do not suggest that “book learning” is the whole story, but it is important to pair it with other life experience. We are fortunate that UConn works hard to help students balance the academic curriculum with extra-curricular opportunities including clubs, sports and volunteerism.

Education and employment thrive when students understand that their growth involves multiple efforts that are supported and guided at an academic institution. It is their focus and self-awareness, supported by good advice and counsel, which helps them realize the full benefit of a college education.

John A. Elliott
Dean, UConn School of Business
John A. Elliott is dean of the UConn School of Business, as well as the Auran J. Fox Chair in Business. John is a certified public accountant with professional experience as an auditor and consultant. His research is concentrated on the role of accounting information in financial analysis and contracts. When not attending his son’s athletic events or visiting his daughter and her family, John and his wife, Laura enjoy travel. John is also an avid fan of the UConn men’s and women’s basketball teams.