Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Our 10/21/10 Chart of the Week

Over at the Quick and the Ed blog (a must-read for anyone with even a passing interest in higher education policy), Forrest Hinton chastises us for a "Chart of the Week" we posted a while back.

We think some of the accusations are off base. For example, the charge that we cherry picked the data is incorrect. The time frame we used for the chart was based solely upon the availability of data. In particular, 1969-1970 is the first year for which the Digest of Education Statistics table reported continuous data on the number of degrees conferred (making it the natural year to select as a start point), and 2007-2008 was the last year with non-projected numbers. Similarly, to date, we have not located any unemployment rate data prior to 1970 specifically for holders of bachelor's degrees (if anyone knows where earlier data may exist, we would love to have access to it).

However, upon rereading the post, we agree with Hinton’s main point that the wording of the post can be mis-interpreted (though what we meant was not misleading). In particular, the statement
In light of this evidence, one must question the sensibility of policy goals that seek to substantially further increase the proportion of Americans with college degrees.
could be read as arguing that more graduates cause more unemployment and that therefore we shouldn’t send more students to college. This is not what we were trying to convey, either implicitly or explicitly.

What we meant to convey with the chart (a meaning which is clear when viewed within the context of two blogs of the same vintage, one originally on our own blog, the other originally on the Chronicle's "Innovations" blog) was that a college degree used to be a much better guarantee of getting a good job and generally kept graduates from being unemployed. Now, however, college graduates are increasingly struggling to find jobs, and too many of those who do find jobs wind up in ones which don’t require a degree.

In this context, the above statement is not misleading, as the employment prospects of graduates is a relevant (though by no means a decisive) counter-point to the proposed policy goal of increasing the proportion of college graduates. But viewed in isolation, the post could too easily be misread, and we regret any confusion this may have caused.

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