Nationally, college graduates with bachelor's degrees fared better in the economic downturn than others, with an unemployment rate of 4.5 percent in 2012, compared with all persons at 6.8 percent (Graph 1). Those with bachelor's degrees also had higher median earnings, about $55,432 per year ($1,066 per week), versus the $33,904 per year ($652 per week) that high school graduates earned. The high school figure is much higher than what an individual could earn full time at Oregon's current minimum wage of $8.95 per hour, or $358 per week.
Earnings generally increase with education, but some exceptions exist. A few factors contribute to the presence of these "outliers." First, some occupations requiring a bachelor's degree simply pay low wages. Second, many with their bachelor's degree are underemployed - working in occupations that do not require their level of education. Finally, some high-earning workers without a college degree are likely to be older workers who are at the peak of their careers. Similarly, some low-earning workers with college degrees are likely to be younger and near the bottom of their career ladders.
Some bachelor's recipients continued on to graduate programs. At the same time, students were graduating with advanced degrees and likely competing for many of the same jobs as the undergraduates.
After receiving their degrees, many employment opportunities exist for new and existing bachelor's degree holders. In 2010, 16.9 percent of Oregon's jobs required a bachelor's degree, and 15.3 percent of projected total job openings between 2010 and 2020 will require one (Table 1). However, Oregon has experienced significant overall job loss in the last couple of years, causing many new graduates difficulty landing jobs in their fields of study and at their skill levels due to high competition for jobs with their peers and experienced bachelor's degree holders. As new and recent graduates shift to seek jobs outside their majors, they could displace a number of other, presumably less-educated, workers from jobs that traditionally do not require a bachelor's degree.
For those working in occupations that require a bachelor's degree, average annual wages vary widely, depending upon their field of work. Table 2 shows a selection of occupations that require a bachelor's degree and their respective average annual wages. In 2012, these occupations paid between $37,128 (for museum technicians and conservators) and $131,321 (for engineering managers). Most new graduates can expect earnings in the lower half of this range.
Fast-growing occupations requiring a bachelor's span a variety of fields, including health care, education, and computer systems and software (Table 3). These high-growth occupations also tend to pay high wages. Of the top 10, nine fall into the high-wage category (earnings greater than $50,000 per year).
The overall share of high-wage jobs is larger for occupations requiring a bachelor's degree than for occupations with an associate degree or no postsecondary education as a minimum requirement. In 2010, 82 percent of employment (228,895 jobs) in Oregon's occupations requiring a bachelor's degree as a minimum requirement paid more than $50,000 a year. By comparison, 80 percent (49,232> jobs) requiring a minimum of an associate degree paid more than $50,000 annually,and only 8 percent (85,386 jobs) of Oregon employment in occupations that required no postsecondary education hit the high-wage mark.
|2010-2020 Oregon Employment for Jobs Requiring a Bachelor's Degree|
|2010 Employment||2020 Projected Employment||2010-2020 Growth Openings||2010-2020 Replacement Openings||2010-2020 Total Openings|
|Total Number of Jobs||1,644,158||1,941,856||299,670||428,728||728,398|
|Jobs Requiring a Bachelor's||277,831||323,128||45,372||66,115||111,487|
|Percent of Total||16.9%||16.6%||15.1%||15.4%||15.3%|
|Jobs With a Bachelor's as Competitive||116,893||139,972||23,303||28,688||51,991|
|Percent of Total||7.1%||7.2%||7.8%||6.7%||7.1%|
|2012 Oregon Average Annual Wages for Select Occupations Requiring a Bachelor's Degree|
|General and Operations Managers||$102,351|
|Computer Systems Analysts||$79,698|
|Urban and Regional Planners||$72,721|
|Accountants and Auditors||$63,279|
|Dietitians and Nutritionists||$61,037|
|Multi-Media Artists and Animators||$60,889|
|Reporters and Correspondents||$39,223|
|Museum Technicians and Conservators||$37,128|
|Top Growth Occupations in Oregon Requiring a Minimum of a Bachelor's Degree|
|2010 Employment||2020 Projected Employment||Change||2010-2020 Percent Growth||2012 Average Annual Wage|
|General and Operations Managers||19,297||23,083||3,786||19.6%||$102,351|
|Accountants and Auditors||11,227||13,665||2,438||21.7%||$63,279|
|Business Operations Specialists, All Other||14,258||16,339||2,081||14.6%||$61,455|
|Computer Software Engineers, Applications||7,887||9,838||1,951||24.7%||$85,746|
|Education, Training, and Library, All Other||14,864||16,696||1,832||12.3%||$39,876|
|Elementary School Teachers, Except Special Education||14,187||15,585||1,398||9.9%||$53,943|
|Managers, All Other||6,434||7,538||1,104||17.2%||$86,179|
|Secondary School Teachers, Except Special and Vocational Education||11,336||12,433||1,097||9.7%||$53,871|
|Medical and Health Services Managers||3,184||4,010||826||25.9%||$103,378|
|Computer Systems Analysts||4,190||4,972||782||18.7%||$79,698|
Students who attend a community college and transfer coursework to a four-year college find lower tuition rates for their lower division courses. However, costs in these two-year institutions continue to rise as well. Tuition at Oregon community colleges increased by 30 percent between the 2006-2007 and 2011-2012 academic years, from $2,827 to $3,663, not including fees. Increasing community college costs are also paired with increasing demand for transfer coursework and re-training of recently displaced workers.
In addition to the cost of tuition, fees, and room and board, most students attending four-year colleges forego the income of a full-time job. This lost income adds to the short-term cost of obtaining a four-year college degree. With the rising cost of tuition, bachelor's degree earners also face increasing long-term costs. A majority of students acquire loan debt to finance their education, and student loan repayments generally last anywhere from 10 to 30 years after receiving the degree. The Project on Student Debt found that on average, students in the U.S. graduating with tuition loans accumulated $12,750 of debt in 1996. By 2008, the figure rose to nearly $23,200 in average student loan debt. And in 2011, it was $26,600. In Oregon, 63 percent of students graduating from public and private four-year institutions in 2011 acquired student debt; the average amount totaled $25,497.