Last month, The Advocate published an article stating that following months of positive gains in Louisiana jobs, employment in the state rose to more than 2 million. Nationally, unemployment is low and predicted to fall further in the coming year, with a record number of job openings across nearly all industries. One of the drivers is the aging workforce and record number of retirements compared to potential employees to fill jobs. The economy and job market, indeed, appear to be strong.
It’s also college application and decision season — that time of year when high school seniors pick whether and where to pursue higher education. We hear from some that with the economy doing so well and a surplus of available jobs, the circumstances are ripe to bypass college and jump right into a good-paying position. If you are one of those people, keep reading.
A 2017 report from The Institute for the Future, an independent futures research group, states that roughly 85 percent of jobs that today’s students will have in 2030 haven’t even been created yet. In particular, it is difficult to imagine the types of jobs that sophisticated emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, robotics, and cloud computing will reveal in the future.
Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce notes that by next year, 65 percent of all jobs will require a college degree. The center also reports that during the post-recession era, of the 11.6 million jobs created, 99 percent went to workers with more than a high school education, and 72 percent went to those with at least a bachelor’s degree. By all indications, those with a bachelor’s degree or higher are taking nearly all available jobs in middle- and high-skills occupations, effectively a college-fed economy. And those without a college degree are falling out of America’s middle class. The bachelor’s degree has become a minimum qualification to compete and build a healthy career in most industries. Salaries tell a similar story: A bachelor’s degree is worth nearly 70 percent more in annual income compared to those with only a high-school diploma, and a graduate degree is worth 120 percent more. Over their lifetime, bachelor’s degree holders will earn more than $1 million more than their counterparts without a similar degree. Those college graduates also tend to have better access to health care, greater social networks and improved overall psychological well-being.
Granted, none of this may be a surprise to some readers. But this might: The U.S. Census Bureau indicates that of Louisianans age 25 or older, only 23 percent hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. In New Orleans, the figure is 36 percent — better than the statewide number, but still insufficient to meet the demands of a knowledge economy that will strengthen over the next decade.
More than ever, these trends demonstrate the need for a more educated Louisiana, and the value of a college degree, particularly a degree from a university that has adapted its programs to an evolving-jobs landscape and to the specifications of employers. A four-year degree is more than a mere credential. It should also prove that a graduate has honed the transferrable skills of inquiry, reasoning, critical thinking, problem-solving, teamwork, and communication that can be adapted to a variety of jobs.
Public research universities like the University of New Orleans fill a vital need in our country’s most important cities. They offer a unique combination of access, affordability and excellence that transforms the lives of students from all backgrounds. They create upward social and economic mobility, sustain robust economic activity and lift entire communities. So the question shouldn’t be, “Can you afford to go to college?” Ask yourself, “Can you afford not to?”
John Nicklow is president of the University of New Orleans.