Does Having a Degree Vs. No Degree Affect Employment Opportunities?

If you're unsure about whether earning a college degree is right for you, read on. Learn whether your employment opportunities will be better if you do earn a college degree.

The Effects of Education on Employment Opportunities

According to a report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov) in May 2019, 22.1% of all unemployed Americans are in the 25 to 34 age range. The U.S. Census Bureau, on the other hand, reports that in 2017, 11.1% of individuals between the ages of 25 and 34 were currently not working, a figure that was much higher than the national jobless rate of 5.3% at that time (www.census.gov).

Despite these troubling statistics, one demographic is holding up well despite the economic downturn: college graduates. The U.S. Census Bureau reported in 2017 that only 2.6% of college graduates were unemployed, far less than the national average. When compared with other education levels, individuals with a college degree were the only group that had better job prospects in 2017 than when the recession started.

A college degree, however, is not a guarantee. Your area of study will almost certainly affect your ability to get a job, according to a report by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES, nces.ed.gov). For example, only 1% of students with a degree in general education were unemployed in 2017. Conversely, those who choose to study the liberal arts and humanities have much dimmer prospects, with a 5.8% unemployment rate after graduation.

Important Facts About Employment Opportunities with a Degree vs. No Degree

Wind Turbine Service Technician Physical Therapist Home Health Aide
Required Education Some collegeDoctoral/Professional degreeNo formal education requirement
Work Environment On-site Healthcare facilities Client's residence
Median Salary (2018) $54,370 $87,930 $24,200
Projected Job Growth (2016-2026) 96% 28%47%

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Openings in 2016 and 2026

The BLS reported in 2016 that the number of jobs available for those who held a high school diploma or equivalent was about 61.5 million. The number of jobs for those with an associate's degree was roughly 3.6 million and with a bachelor's degree were almost 33.4 million. Jobs for master's degree holders were almost 2.7 million and those with a doctoral or professional degree had about 4.2 million jobs available. The largest projected job growth for 2016-2026, about 16.7%, was expected in jobs that required a master's degree.

Job Opportunities in Top Growing Occupations

The BLS also reported on the top growing occupations for 2016-2026, with the report showing that most of the fastest growing jobs required some form of postsecondary education. Some of the occupations on the report that require a college education included physical therapist assistants, nurse practitioners, and statisticians. Some occupations on the list, such as home health aides, did not require a degree, making it a possible choice for professionals with only a high school degree.

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