DOE Report: Jobs and Life After College for Class of 2007

The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed both reported on a U.S. Department of Education Report, Baccalaureate and Beyond: A First Look at the Employment Experiences and Lives of College Graduates, 4 Years On (B&B:08/12). This survey of college graduates from AY 2007-2008 looks at their lives four years after they leave school. Of course, the focus employment and post-secondary education is important, but before even considering those aspects of alumni lives, some less newsworthy items deserve some attention.

  • About two-fifths of graduates in this cohort are married; about a quarter have kids.
  • About one-fifth of graduates in this cohort are in graduate school; about three quarters work; and about one-fifth does not work or go to school. (Yes, some both go to school and work at a job.)
  • Of folks with jobs, 84% hold one, full-time job; the others who work and don’t go school hold just one part time job or piece together a living from multiple jobs.
  • In this cohort, the average number of jobs held was 2.1 with 30.5% of this group having had three or more jobs.
  • And this is most surprising – to me – in the four years since graduation, measured in months, social science graduates spend about one-fifth of their time either unemployed or out-of-the-workforce.

The experts invited to comment on the study by the trades offer differing interpretations on the new study. Anthony Carnevale, principal investigator of the Georgetown Salary Studies, was reported to have observed that the study shows that major field of study DOES matter. Richard Vedder, of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity was reported to have raised the overall softness in the economy as an issue. Phil Gardner of the Collegiate Employment Research Institute of Michigan State reportedly indicated that the 07-08 graduates were in better shape than those from the next two years (08-09 and 09-10). My sense is that these are top people – well versed in the field. They don’t see any surprises in the study here. Probably, I need to get a better understanding of their work.

Carnevale, Vedder and Gardner are labor economists, and their interests are no doubt somewhat different from my own. I take the point about the contemporary employment market: it’s fluidity, softness and so on. Jobs do matter. Still, I wish that I knew more about how recent graduates filled those times without jobs; whether the educational programs in which students are now enrolled offered real value – and what students are learning that they might not have learned as undergraduates; and how well or poorly these recent graduate are finding meaning and thriving in their lives after college.