684: Useful study

The value of a college degree — or a path of long-term intense study, no matter what the topic — is one of those things that is consistently and hotly debated around the world. The idea is, of course, that you study a topic, garner a mastery of the topic, and then use that mastery to get a job or work in that field.

Education, however, is not quite such a direct path in life. And the way those statistics are manipulated into useful bits of data can tell just about any story you want to.

Case in point – how many college graduates are working in their field of study.

In 2014 in The Independent it was reported, quote:

Only half of all UK graduates are working in a field that relates to their degree after leaving university, according to new research published today. In addition, 96 per cent say they had switched careers by the time they reached the age of 24.

A similar article in The Washington Post in 2013 reported, quote:

The vast majority of U.S. college grads, they find, work in jobs that aren’t strictly related to their degrees. First, a significant number of college grads appear to be underemployed: In 2010, only 62 percent of U.S. college graduates had a job that required a college degree. Second, the authors estimated that just 27 percent of college grads had a job that was closely related to their major.  

But as Jordan Weissman pointed out about this very statistic in The Atlantic, quote:

First, the study doesn’t look at Americans with graduate degrees, so any pre-med students who actually became doctors don’t get counted, nor do econ grads who went on to get MBA’s or English teachers who got went from comp lit to a master’s in education. That might seem like a nitpick, until your realize that more than a third of BA’s 25 or older have an advanced degree. To figure out which workers had jobs that were related to their major, the authors matched Census data against the National Center for Education Statistics’s Occupational Crosswalks. […] For fun, I went and checked out what the government believes math majors are supposed to go and do with their lives. The options: professor, math scientist, mathematician, natural science managers, and statisticians. I don’t know about you, but the math majors I knew in college went off and made money on Wall Street (or as consultants, if they were into travel). I’m sure their quantitative skills came in handy often enough. The point here isn’t just that the government has fouled up its database. Rather, it’s that actually figuring out what any given field of study will prepare students for in an ever-evolving economy is probably an impossible task.

The fact is, no matter how you slice it, education is only one part of how qualifications are determined for a job – or whatever work you choose to do. So…