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.
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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.
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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).
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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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