Half of community college grads say they're underemployed

Rates of underemployment generally decrease with higher levels of education

Nearly half of associate degree holders believe they are underemployed, according to a new study from compensation data company PayScale

The company surveyed 900,000 workers to determine whether they thought they were underemployed. PayScale defines underemployment as having part-time work but wanting to work full-time, or holding a job that does not require or use one's education, experience, or training.

The survey found that 50% of associate degree-holding workers believe they are underemployed. Of them, 24% are working part-time jobs when they'd prefer to be full-time and 76% say they aren't using their formal education or training. Millennials were the most underemployed of any generation surveyed. 

Designing programs for the Millennial workforce

Higher education levels translated into less underemployment; individuals with the most education report the lowest rates of underemployment.

However, workers who took some college courses but did not get a degree have the highest level of underemployment—even higher than that of workers with only a GED or high school diploma. Workers with some college education are more likely to be underemployed than those with no college education, at 57% and 52%, respectively.

Women are also more likely to report being underemployed than are men, at 49% and 43% respectively. 

Meeting the demand for alumni career services

Education levels in relation to underemployment are:

  • Some college (57%);
  • High school/GED (52%);
  • AA (50%);
  • BA/BS (43%);
  • MBA (41%);
  • MA (39%);
  • JD (37%);
  • Ph.D. (34%); and
  • MD (30%).

The most commonly underemployed majors in combination with degree levels are:

  • Physical education teaching (Bachelor's degree);
  • Human services (Bachelor's degree);
  • Illustration (Bachelor's degree);
  • Criminal justice (Master's degree); and
  • Criminal justice (Bachelor's degree). 

The fastest-growing jobs in each state

The data might be disheartening to community college leaders at first glance, says Melinda Salaman, Associate Director at EAB. But she points out that the data are self-reported.

"The takeaway isn't so much that community college graduates are underemployed, but that they believe they are—which is still a major insight for college leadership," Salaman says.

She adds that there are several possible explanations for the high reports of underemployment among associate degree holders, but a major one is the "misalignment of expectations and reality."

"If college students don't investigate what a degree is worth in their target industry or geographic area, then they're at risk of overestimating the job or salary they can expect following graduation," Salaman explains. "The result is a significant proportion of students who are disappointed with their degree and self-identify as underemployed."

To fight this, Salaman encourages community college leaders to consider offering more career exploration activities for students—before they choose a major.

"This would help students not only understand the day-to-day demands of a given profession, but also the process of securing a job and realistic salary expectations," says Salaman (Carter, Education Dive, 7/5; Rush, PayScale , 6/30; PayScale study, accessed 7/6). 

Read more: 3 ways to engage students in the perfect academic program


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