I went to college. My kids will go to college. And when I was working for the Obama administration, I was proud of the work we did on access to higher ed, which I view as a key mobility issue for kids from less advantaged families.
But at the same time, I often thought about numbers like those in the table below. It’s the Bureau of Labor Statistics table of the 30 occupations expected to add the most jobs over the next decade. What it shows is that most of these occupations are not the ones that demand the most skills. Most of them don’t require a college education–they call for short or moderate-term training.
It’s true, as the table shows, that we’ll continue to need more computer geeks and surgeons–but we’ll need more home health aides, food prep workers, and security guards. And we need to worry about the quality of these jobs and the well-being of the people in them too.
Now, lots of caveats to this observation. These are NOT the occupations growing most quickly—those tend to have higher skill demands, but many are growing from a low base so they generate a big percent change.
And we should of course remain highly committed to access to college, for lots of reasons—whatever the distribution of employers’ skill demands, people should realize their academic potential. Surely, a more highly educated society makes better choices.
But we also must be careful not to be so focused on college access (and completion, which is just as important) that we lose sight of the majority of our adult workforce that doesn’t have a college degree (about 70%) and the quality of jobs that many of them occupy.
Increasing the share of college grads is a key piece of “winning the future,” but I also worry the present.
(If you find the table hard to read here, see link.)