MIAMI, Florida – Graduating from high school with qualifications suitable to pursue higher education is a very exciting time for students as they yearn to be accepted to the college of their preference. However, it’s questionable whether most of these students are pursuing courses that will make it possible to embark on rewarding careers when they graduate college.
It may come as a surprise that with Florida’s unemployment rate hovering around 3.1 percent, it includes college graduates holding degrees which are useless in the current job market. Other graduates are underemployed, earning salaries way below what they ought to be earning.
There’s some concern in Florida and other states that too many students pursue courses of study that don’t correlate with job demands. The job market in South Florida is now extremely competitive so it’s important that college students graduate with qualifications that allow them to compete effectively.
According to research conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor, the fastest-growing, most demanding careers in Florida for the period through 2020 are: registered nurses (RN’s), food preparation and service workers, customer service representatives, nursing aides, orderlies and attendants, home health aides, post-secondary and elementary school teachers, accountants and auditors; and retail sales personnel.
Some of the jobs listed above do not necessarily require a college degree, and the required qualifications can be practically attained at less expensive vocational colleges, requiring shorter courses of study.
The list also includes higher-earning careers such as registered nursing, accounting, auditing, and administrative management, which mostly require a college education to be more competitive. These careers usually pay higher salaries, mainly because of the high demand for workers in these areas.
Another study conducted by a Florida career planning company cites the highest paying jobs (over $40 per hour) in the state are mainly in healthcare—physicians and surgeons, oral and maxillofacial surgeons, orthodontists, pharmacists, and (general) dentists. Outside the healthcare sector, the biggest wages go to airline pilots, flight engineers, air traffic controllers, and managers in computer science and information technology, engineering, natural sciences, compensation and benefits, and sales.
These high-paying jobs correlate to the initiative taken during the Obama administration to focus on studies in the sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics—the STEM subjects. These four subject areas relate to several jobs that urgently need workers. Acting on research that showed the U.S. lagging behind other countries in the STEM areas, the Obama administration began providing incentives to encourage more high school students to excel in STEM subjects and pursue these courses in college. The administration also initiated incentives for more jobs to open in these fields, thus creating a surge in demand for workers with qualifications in STEM subjects.
Unfortunately, in our community, some students and parents still place more emphasis on the social/academic status symbol that a degree offers, rather than on the practical usefulness of that degree towards career advancement. Too often parents who never had the opportunity to attend college and earn a degree, push and invest heavily in their child to attend college so their child can be “the first in the family to earn a degree,” any degree, to satisfy a family shortcoming.
It is ridiculous to view a college degree or diploma as a family vanity project. The objective of earning qualification through higher education is for individuals to be able to make a meaningful contribution to their career and community, as well as enhance the standard of living for themselves and their families.
Professionals in South Florida involved in matching job applicants with vacant jobs are concerned that the qualifications of some college graduates do not meet the requirements of available jobs. Also, economists in the region have cautioned stagnant wages could likely not increase unless the labor market improves its skill level by pursuing post-high school education more relevant to the region’s job needs.
Academic counselors at most colleges should be cognizant of the needs of the communities they serve and honestly offer guidance to students relating to pursuing courses that best position them for the job market upon graduation. So also, should guidance counselors at the region’s high schools.
Public and private grants, scholarships and general college financial assistance should also be aligned to courses that correlate to assessed manpower needs.
Investment in higher education is too costly to have students graduate in disciplines they cannot practically use to obtain rewarding careers.