Devaluing a four year degree

Worrisome survey results reported by the New York Times. Worth checking out and taking the one question survey.

The question: “What do you think the unemployment rate is for 25-to-34-year-olds who graduated from a four-year college? (Hint: for those with only a high school degree, it’s 7.4 percent.)”

The Times reports it previously did a survey with a similar question with Google Consumer Surveys. Here is the response they got:

We asked: “What would you guess is the current unemployment rate for four-year college graduates between the ages of 25 and 34?” We also asked the same question, phrased the same way, but about high school graduates.

Initially, people were way off. The most common answers for college graduates were between 20 and 30 percent. Perhaps an understandable mistake: The question was open-ended, and maybe lots of people don’t know exactly how an unemployment rate is defined (it doesn’t include people who aren’t looking for jobs). But what surprised us was that the majority of people thought that unemployment rates for those with college degrees were higher than for those without.

We were so surprised that we thought we had done something wrong. Maybe we asked the question unclearly, or perhaps people weren’t thinking about unemployment rates consistently. So we ran the survey again, this time with a point of reference to anchor them. Our focus this time was figuring out whether people were completely mistaken about the effect of a college degree on one’s chances of having a job.

We asked: “The unemployment rate for 24-to-34-year-olds without a four-year college degree is 7 percent. What do you think it is for 25-to-34-year-olds with a four-year college degree?” More than half of the respondents thought that the jobless rate for college graduates was higher.

No wonder government is underinvesting in higher education.

The perception represented in these results is diametrically opposed to the reality. The unemployment rate for 25-34 year olds with a bachelors degree or more is 2.4 percent. The average response to the Google survey was 9.2 percent. Of New York Times readers the average response was 6.5 percent.


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