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Have degree, driving cab: Nearly half of college grads are overqualified

New study finds that 48 percent of college graduates are in jobs that do not require a college degree, fueling consumer doubts over whether a college education is worth the cost.

By Staff writer / January 28, 2013

Martina Ryberg (r.) of Plymouth State University talked with Tara Rossetti of On Call International during a job fair for college students in Manchester, N.H., last year. Many college grads are entering jobs for which they are overqualified.

Jim Cole/AP/File

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Here’s a new data nugget in a high-stakes debate over the state of working America: A new study finds that about half of all workers with a college degree are overqualified for their current jobs.

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Some 48 percent of the degree holders, to be precise, are in positions that the US Labor Department classifies as requiring less than a four-year college education.

This finding, released by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, a research group in Washington, underscores growing public concerns about the availability of good jobs and the value of college education.

“In the three occupations ‘retail sales person,’ ‘cashier,’ and ‘waiters and waitresses’ there are more than 1.7 million college graduates employed,” says the study by researchers Richard Vedder, Christopher Denhart, and Jonathan Robe.

Today, 15 percent of US taxi drivers have a college degree, up from less than 1 percent in 1970.

The study arrives at a time when news articles asking, “Is college worth it?,” have become commonplace.

Although the new report suggests the answer often is “no,” this is a complicated issue, with other scholars defending the idea that expanding higher education will benefit individuals and the economy.

For instance, for people focused on their own financial well-being, it’s worth noting that a college degree tends to result in both higher pay and lower unemployment. The jobless rate is currently 3.9 percent for workers with a college degree or higher, versus 8 percent for high school grads and 11.7 percent for people without a high school diploma.

Plenty of economists defend the goal of bringing higher education to a larger share of the workforce, arguing that it’s the best way for the United States to maintain prosperity in an era of stronger global competition for good-paying jobs.

Both sides in this debate may be contributing important grains of truth.

Lots of people are overqualified for the jobs they hold, and this is a challenge that emerged before the deep recession in 2007-09, which created a particularly challenging job market for new college grads.

At the same time, the story of economic progress is one of continuous development of new tools and the skills to use them – and good jobs will flow to nations that can keep pushing further down this path. And millions of individuals have the means to educate themselves, and hope to be useful in jobs that match their talents and aspirations.

The Center for College Affordability and Productivity (CCAP), in its report, emphasizes the risks of pushing too much education on too many people, with too little thought about its usefulness.

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