The Rise in Underemployed College Graduates

In today’s increasingly competitive job market, many college graduates face underemployment, with over half not using their degree and qualifications effectively. Choosing majors wisely and aligning education with industry demands is crucial to avoiding underemployment and achieving career success post-graduation.

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A college degree has long been viewed as a pathway to a successful and stable career. In today’s competitive job market, many people look to college as a means to secure their future. However, merely obtaining a degree may not be enough. Recent studies reveal a concerning trend — many college graduates find themselves underemployed, struggling to secure jobs that fully utilize their educational credentials. According to the Strada Education Foundation and the Burning Glass Institute, 52% of recent four-year college graduates are underemployed a year after graduation. The first job after graduation is critical. The same research has found that a majority of college graduates (79%) who obtain a college-level job do not later slip into underemployment.

Notably, not all college majors lead to equal employment opportunities, and it is important to understand underemployment rates and their implications across different fields of study. A study found that graduates with degrees involved in a substantial amount of quantitative reasoning experience the lowest underemployment rates at less than 37%. This includes degrees in computer science, engineering, or math-related business fields. Underemployment rates are also low for those with degrees in education or health programs, such as nursing. However, around 57% and up of graduates with degrees in public safety, wellness studies, or general business face higher rates of underemployment. Avoiding underemployment is key to maximizing your return on your investment in education and ensuring career fulfillment.

What Is Underemployment?

Underemployment occurs when individuals hold jobs that do not fully leverage their education, skills, or training. For college graduates, this often means working in positions that do not require a bachelor’s degree despite their educational qualifications. Underemployment is a multifaceted issue influenced by economic factors, technological advancements, and shifts in industry demands. It can lead to job dissatisfaction, financial strain, and challenges in career advancement.

The impact of underemployment extends beyond individual graduates to affect broader economic productivity and workforce dynamics. When skilled individuals are underutilized in the labor market, it represents a misallocation of talent and resources, hindering overall economic growth and innovation.

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What Percentage of College Graduates Use Their Degree?

Recent research by institutes like the Strada Education Foundation and the Burning Glass Institute reveals alarming statistics about underemployment among college graduates. Approximately 52% of four-year college graduates find themselves underemployed within a year after graduation. This percentage remains high even a decade post-graduation, with 45% of graduates still not employed in roles that require a bachelor’s degree.

Underemployment is sticky, as 73% of graduates who start out underemployed remain so 10 years after graduating. They are 3.5 times more likely to be underemployed than those who start out with a job requiring a degree upon graduating.

These figures highlight the challenges graduates face in translating their educational investment into meaningful career opportunities. They also point to the need for strategic career planning, informed decision-making during college major selection, and targeted interventions to address underemployment trends.

How Do Underemployment Rates Differ by Major?

The choice of college major significantly influences rates of underemployed college graduates. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields generally exhibit lower rates of underemployment compared to non-technical disciplines. For example, graduates with degrees in computer science, engineering, and mathematics often secure jobs that align closely with their educational background and skill set. However, even in a STEM field, those with degrees in life sciences, such as biology, experience a higher rate of underemployment than other fields, such as nursing.

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Conversely, majors in liberal arts, social sciences, and humanities may face higher underemployment rates, particularly if industry demand for specific skills is limited. This can be due to factors such as technological disruptions, globalization, and evolving job market dynamics that contribute to disparities in underemployment across different fields of study.

Understanding these trends can empower students to make informed choices about their educational paths and career trajectories. If possible, students should align their academic pursuits with market demands and emerging industry trends to enhance employability and mitigate underemployment risks.

How a Degree in Nursing Can Set You Up for Success

Nursing stands out as a highly promising career path for college graduates, offering favorable employment outcomes and opportunities for professional growth. Nursing graduates consistently experience lower underemployment rates due to sustained demand for healthcare professionals in various settings.

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Those with other STEM-related careers, such as life sciences and biology, are more likely to be underemployed college graduates but are conversely more equipped to transition into nursing. The academic curriculum for biology graduates may be able to transfer more skills between this field and nursing.

The structured curriculum of nursing programs emphasizes practical skills, clinical experiences, and specialized knowledge that directly translate into the workforce. Graduates with nursing degrees benefit from competitive salaries, job stability, and diverse career paths within the healthcare sector. Furthermore, the healthcare industry’s continuous growth and evolving needs ensure sustained demand for qualified nurses, making nursing a resilient and rewarding profession for college graduates.
Contact nursing school admissions to see how your degree and skills can help you start a rewarding career in nursing today.

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