For High School Graduates, a College Degree Becomes Even More Essential

By Catherine Groux
Posted June 07, 2012 07:49 AM

Study shows high school graduates struggle to find employment.
Study shows high school graduates struggle to find employment.
In October 2011, about 68% of 2011 high school graduates were enrolled in a college or university, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Many students who chose not to pursue an associate's or bachelor's degree entered the workforce, but studies show this may not have been the wisest choice.

According to a new report by Rutgers University's John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, recent high school graduates have struggled to find jobs without a college degree. To undertake this analysis, the center spoke with a sample of 544 high school graduates from the classes of 2006 through 2011.

Currently, only 30% of these high school graduates are employed full time, compared to about 60% of college graduates. For high school students who graduated during the recession, or between 2009 and 2011, this figure falls even further, to 16%.

For the high school graduates who were able to find jobs after earning their diplomas, about 90% said they were being paid by the hour, the report shows. The median hourly wage earned by these students at their first jobs was $7.50 per hour, or about $.25 above the federal minimum wage level. Meanwhile, the BLS reports that the average salary of a bachelor's degree holder is around $54,756 per year.

While most high school graduates were not earning large salaries at their first jobs, many also did not value the experience as a stepping stone to a career. According to the report, 79% of these students said they took their position out of necessity, while only 4% saw it as an actual career.

Since taking these first jobs, high school graduates have only made modest progress in their professions. Their wages have, on average, increased from $7.50 at their first jobs to $9.25 in their current positions. Still, while their salaries have increased, about 70% of the jobs held by these high school graduates are only temporary.

Additionally, many diploma holders still do not see their current jobs as careers. The report shows that about 56% of these individuals say their position is just a job to get them by, and only 8% consider it a career.

Given the many downfalls of not attending college, about 33% of high school students said they considered going back to school to earn a degree. An additional 9% said they thought about enrolling in a job training program, while 31% said they considered both college and job training.

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