Office of Planning and Budgeting

Higher Education Increasingly Key to Entering the Middle Class

A new report by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce finds that higher education is becoming increasingly integral to earning a middle class wage. The Center predicts that, in 2018, while there will still be jobs for high school dropouts and workers with only a high school degree, good jobs for these candidates will be scarce and an associate’s degree, and for many, a bachelor’s degree will be necessary.

The report seeks to paint a picture of the likely employment landscape in 2018, including those job fields (or “clusters”) that are expected to be growing and pay higher wages. It further analyzes what educational qualifications jobs in that cluster will require, finding that upward mobility for workers without higher education will be difficult to achieve—most workers do not stay in the same job for very long and most higher-paying jobs require more education, not simply more experience. Other key findings include:

  • In 2018, 37 percent of jobs are expected to require a high school diploma or less. Of these jobs, however, only one third will pay over $35,000 a year (defined here as the Minimum Earnings Threshold necessary to enter the middle class) and will be concentrated in the areas of Transportation, Distribution and Logistics, Architecture and Construction, and Manufacturing. The higher paying clusters are also heavily male-dominated, making higher education even more determinant for women seeking higher paying employment.
  • Completing any degree significantly improves a worker’s job prospects and earnings. 54 percent of workers with an A.A .degree earn more than $35,000 a year, as do 69 percent of workers with B.A.s and 80 percent of workers with M.A.s.
  • Health Sciences, Information Technology, Law, Public Safety, Corrections and Security are career clusters defined by this report as High Wage, High Demand, and High Skill. This means that wages are higher than the average wage, employment is growing quickly (more than 10 percent expected between 2008 and 2018), and most workers in these industries hold a postsecondary degree.

To read more about the report, refer to the Executive Summary or the Full Report. Also see the Chronicle of Higher Education’s article on the topic.

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