UW–Madison’s Hora discusses importance of college degree, why young adults are taking longer to secure ‘good jobs’

Inside Higher Ed utilized the expertise of UW–Madison’s Matthew Hora in a recent article reporting on research finding that young adults need more time, education, and work experience than past generations to secure what are considered “good jobs.”

Matthew Hora

Hora is an associate professor of adult and higher education, and co-director of the Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions (CCWT), housed in the School of Education’s Wisconsin Center for Education Research. He is also an affiliate of the School of Education’s Department of Educational Policy Studies.

The article, headlined “Young Adults Take Longer to Get Good Jobs,” reports on a pair of new reports from the Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW) at Georgetown University. The reports find that young adults today take, on average, until their 30th birthday to secure a “good job,” while 40 years ago most people had a good job by their late 20s. CEW defines a “good job” as one that allows young adults to be economically self-sufficient, which for workers ages 45 and under means making at least $35,000 a year and for those over 45 at least $45,000 annually.

The reports also find that workers with at least a bachelor’s degree are more likely to secure good jobs. Though college graduates take longer to find these jobs than their forebears, in the long term they are more likely than past generations to secure a financially supporting job by the time they are 35.

Hora said he is not surprised by CEW’s findings. He noted that bachelor’s degrees have long signaled to employers that a worker has certain skills.

“For a long time, one of the key gatekeeping mechanisms to well-paying jobs was having a bachelor’s degree,” Hora said. “I think in some disciplines — take engineering, for example — it’s fairly safe to say that a good three- to five-year education and training in some of those disciplines is essential to get some of those well-paying jobs. I think it’s more debatable with other occupations.”

Hora also said that research from CCWT shows some human resource directors and hiring supervisors equate a bachelor’s degree with a sense of work ethic and persistence, but not as an evaluation of skills or knowledge for a job.

“I think it’s really complicated why a bachelor’s degree has led to these discrepancies in wages and financial security,” Hora said. “But one of the reasons is the people doing the hiring look at a bachelor’s degree as a signal of a host of attributes of the job applicant, some of which, in our view as researchers, are highly questionable.”

To learn more, read the full article at insidehighered.com.

Hora is quoted frequently in the media on topics related to work, education/internships, and income inequality. Additional recent mentions include articles in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, Fortune Magazine, and Business Insider.

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