College graduates account for increases in earnings, study suggests

For the past 13 years, the U.S. workforce has been driven by citizens with at least a bachelor’s degree, according to a study by the University of Oklahoma released Friday. GRAPHIC BY SARAH FISHER/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

For the past 13 years, the U.S. workforce has been driven by citizens with at least a bachelor’s degree, according to a study by the University of Oklahoma released Friday. GRAPHIC BY SARAH FISHER/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

Earnings growth and employment in the United States have been almost exclusively fueled by individuals with at least a bachelor’s degree, according to a University of Oklahoma study released Friday.

“Everyone knows that they earn more by being a college grad, typically,” said Robert Dauffenbach, associate dean of Oklahoma University’s Price College of Business, who authored the study. “Seldom do we really look at how much more.”

Dauffenbach found that from 2000 to 2013, 93.1 percent of earnings growth came from workers with either a bachelor’s degree or further academic experience.

Boston University professor of economics Kevin Lang said that the volume of jobs available to college graduates parallels a lack of employment opportunities for high school graduates and those who have little to no educational experience.

“Many of the jobs that can be handled by computers now are jobs that were done by middle-skill workers,” he said. “Those are the jobs that have been disappearing.”

Lang also said that the earnings growth of college graduates from 2000 to 2013 is partly due to many college graduates’ socioeconomic status.

“Much of the income growth over that same period has been at the very, very top of the income distribution,” he said. “So the 1 percent, the .1 percent, the .01 percent have captured a lot of the income growth for the country. Not everybody at that very top of the income distribution is college educated, but a very large fraction of them are.”

BU professor Daniele Paserman, an expert in labor economics, said increased globalization also contributed to the decreasing amount of factory jobs available in America.

“A lot of the blue-collar manufacturing jobs are now disappearing because it’s just much cheaper to import those goods from China,” he said. “Those manufacturing industries in the United States have, already, a competitive disadvantage.”

Paserman said though many Americans are concerned with the rising cost of a college education, the investment is still valuable.

“For the average student that completes the average quality college [education] and pays the average tuition — which is not what you pay at BU, or other elite private colleges — the returns, in terms of lifetime income, of attending college, are extraordinary,” he said. “It’s not that they are positive, it’s the best thing that you could do.”

However, a college education does not necessarily guarantee high-paying employment opportunities, Paserman said.

Several BU students said attaining a college education is integral to acquiring a steady salary in today’s job market.

“Employers look for someone with strong writing and research skills, which comes from Boston University, a liberal arts education,” said Madeline Fuller, a sophomore in BU’s College of Arts and Sciences. “Even a bachelor’s degree isn’t enough. People are having to go on to get master’s [degree] and PhDs to even further their credibility in the workforce.”

Stephanie Singh, a freshman in Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, said her parents repeatedly stressed the importance of graduating from a four-year institution.

“A college education has become necessary at this point,” she said. “Considering the types of jobs that are available for people who come straight out of high school, or even high school dropouts, there are very few, and most of them don’t really pay that much considering inflation rates in this nation right now. For jobs like those, it’s not enough to live on.”

Evan Lowell, a College of Engineering sophomore, said a gradual shift in America’s job market is responsible for the dearth of blue-collar jobs in the country.

“America has moved farther away from the manufacturing industry and moved more toward engineering, and education and business have become the prime sources of income in America,” he said. “All those jobs require a bachelor’s degree or higher.”

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