The public narrative around the college grad unemployment level is way off

News media may have led people to believe that college grads have poor employment outcomes

Most people believe that the unemployment rate for college graduates is significantly higher than the actual rate of 2.4%, according to a survey from the New York Times.

Last year, the Times partnered with Google Consumer Surveys to learn about people's perceptions regarding the value of higher education. The survey asked U.S. residents about college costs, wages after college, and unemployment rates of college graduates and non-graduates.

The survey asked "What would you guess is the current unemployment rate for four-year college graduates between the ages of 25 and 34?" The survey also asked the same question in regard to high school graduates.

Most respondents thought the rate hovered between 20 to 30%. In fact, the majority of respondents believed that unemployment rates were higher among college graduates than among non-graduates. The Times was so surprised by the results that it posed the question again just to make sure that it was clear.

Related: Tracking graduate employment outcomes

Noting that the unemployment rate for 24- to-34-year-olds without a four-year college degree is 7.4%, the Times asked survey respondents what they thought the rate was for 25- to-34-year-olds with a four-year college degree. More than half of respondents believed the unemployment rate to be higher for college graduates.

Even when posing the same question to friends and parents, members of the Times found the results to be the same. Friends and family reasoned that college graduates would be more likely to be unemployed because they would be more selective about jobs, over-qualified for positions, or lack practical skills.

The Times administered the survey a third time, but with multiple-choice questions, finally conceding that the responses were no fluke. Nearly half of respondents believed that college graduates had higher unemployment rates.

One possible explanation: News media in recent years have questioned the value of college with articles suggesting that employment outcomes for college graduates are rather bleak.

"Our survey results suggest that articles like these have really taken hold with the public," according to the Times (Bui, New York Times, accessed 6/7).

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