The underemployment rate is the lowest it's been in half a century (at 3.7 percent), but college students still worry about finding adequate work upon graduating — especially as student loans skyrocket. In fact, more Americans are burdened with student loan debt than ever before, with millennials, in particular, owing a staggering sum of over $1.48 trillion, according to 2018 estimates. And 43 percent of college graduates are underemployed in their first job, meaning that they aren't employed in jobs that require bachelor degrees, according to Burning Glass data.
A college degree "only pays off if graduates find college-level jobs," the analysis states. "In recent years, far too many students find that they are not able to put their degree to work in the labor market, with a troubling impact on their earning potential."
During the first 15 years in the job market, underemployed graduates lose out on $149,000 in income — that's a significant pay differential.
But the research suggests that some students have an edge over others. For example, engineering majors have the lowest probability of underemployment, at 18 percent. English majors aren't far behind — they only have a 29 percent probability of being underemployed after graduation. That's compared to 31 percent for business majors and 50 percent for homeland security, law enforcement and related protected service fields.
Other "problematic" degrees include studies in public administration, social services, parks, recreation and fitness. Students who graduate with degrees in these fields often find themselves taking on extra work to prepare for the workforce, since their majors prepare them for specific fields but can fail to prepare them as "job ready" adults, according to the researchers.
"This is troubling because these non-licensed occupational majors account for four in 10 bachelor’s degrees awarded in the United States," according to the researchers.
Since 1970, the enrollment of students in these majors has increased 80 percent.
"What students study at college often signals to employers the skills they have and the qualities they bring to a job," the researchers said. "Majors can help put students on the pathway to a long-term career, or they can dead-end them in underemployment."
English majors learn skills that are applicable across all fields, such as communication, writing, critical thinking and time-management skills. Studying English is, therefore, a resourceful foundation for students contemplating further education in law, politics, the medical field and a host of other graduate or professional programs; they can analyze cases, discuss politics, write medical papers and do it all on deadline with the same skills they learned as English majors. And, of course, they can effectively communicate with colleagues, craft well-written emails, write compelling proposals and more.
Workplace skills are a necessity, not only to do one's job well, but also to earn more income. For all college majors, the acquisition of specific workplace skills can add up to 20 percent to a college graduate’s earnings, according to the research.
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AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report,