Mostly white college graduates did a better job of weathering the recession than their disproportionately minority peers who possessed just a high school diploma or an associate degree, according to a report released on Wednesday by the Pew Charitable Trusts Economic Mobility Project.
"Even under the pressures of the most recent economic downturn, a four-year college degree provided protection in the labor market for recent college graduates," said research manager of Pew’s Economic Mobility Project Diana Elliott, in an advisory.
The analysis of census data of people aged 21 to 24 from 2003 to 2011 found that while employment for those with a four-year college degree declined by 7 percent during the recession, those with just a high school degree saw unemployment decline by 16 percent and those with a two-year degree saw a decline of 11 percent.
But though that's good news for college grads, the analysis revealed that college graduates were more likely to be female (59 percent) and white (75 percent), than high school graduates, who were 15 percent black and 17 percent Hispanic.
The report also found that the higher employment rate wasn't explained by college graduates "settling for lesser jobs or lower wages." If college graduates had been taking jobs usually suited for high school or associate degree holders, the analysis would have detected a wages hit, but they didn't find this to be the case.
The findings of the Pew study are strikingly similar to a report released in August last year by Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW), which determined unemployment for those with just a high school degree was more than double that of recent college graduates.
"What we do know know is that college graduates have it better than most," explained Nicole Smith, senior economist at CEW. "The skills mark a change that has resulted in a bias toward more and more jobs that require more and more post-secondary education."
CEW discovered recent college graduates found a peak unemployment of 11.1 percent in July 2011 during the recession (declining to 6.8 percent by May 2012), but high school graduates found a peak unemployment rate of 30 percent in January 2010 and still had an unemployment rate of 24 percent by May 2012.
"What we observe in this recession is not necessarily unique to this recession. The jobs that are lost, that we lose during the recession, are very different than the ones we gain during the recovery," Smith continued.
But though traditional college maintains its position as a highly insulated job market, especially as baby boomers retire and create vacancies among highly skilled professions, the major growth industries don't all require four years of a liberal arts education. Jobs like health care and mid-skill science, education, technology and math jobs are high-growth fields right now.
"Minority populations are more likely to enroll in two year institutions than four year institutions," Smith said, and that could mean even more growth for these fields down the line. "There's nothing that says [these populations] are relegated to the middle."
Still, many experts worry that push toward post-secondary education is worrisome in an era of dramatically increasing student debt, which has recently outpaced other consumer debt like credit card debt and auto loan debt. Tuition has also been dramatically increasing each year, far outpacing the rate of inflation.
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