Talent Disrupted


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Find answers to frequently asked questions about the report.


If a degree isn’t going to guarantee economic success, then why even go to college?

A college education offers several valuable benefits beyond career preparation, including strengthening communication and critical thinking skills, preparing individuals for responsible citizenship, expanding intellectual interests, and helping people to navigate an increasingly diverse and global society. A college education is most economically worthwhile when students learn skills that are valued in the labor market and complement their academic learning with practical, relevant work-based learning opportunities (e.g., paid internships), while making smart decisions with respect to how much debt they take on. The fact that a bachelor’s degree does not always guarantee economic success does not mean that individuals shouldn’t pursue one. Instead, policymakers, colleges and universities, and students should take constructive steps to improve career success. Our report offers practical recommendations that, if implemented, would substantially improve employment outcomes for college graduates.

What are the differences between the findings in this new report and “The Permanent Detour,” the 2018 report from Strada and The Burning Glass Institute?

The main themes in both reports generally are similar, while the new report adds new insights on how underemployment varies by type of institution attended, geography, and race/ethnicity, as well as explores the connection between underemployment and advanced degrees. The new report also explores pathways to escape underemployment. Further, our new report includes important insights on the differences in employment outcomes across different types of STEM fields and business programs. The new report also includes enhanced weighting methods to improve the representativeness of the profile data to account for differences in the likelihood of certain types of workers having an online profile.

I’ve read elsewhere that liberal arts graduates start out with worse employment outcomes, but eventually catch up and overtake other majors. Is that true?

While many graduates with a terminal bachelor’s degree in a liberal arts field achieve career success and economic mobility across a wide variety of occupations, most such graduates begin their career underemployed. Liberal arts graduates are often able to shift from underemployment to a college-level job during the first few years after graduation. Nevertheless, underemployment rates for liberal arts graduates without an advanced degree remain high compared to graduates with a terminal bachelor’s degree in many other majors even a decade after graduation.

Why are the reported underemployment rates in “Talent Disrupted” higher than those in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s public-facing underemployment data dashboard?

The NY Fed has published important research on underemployment of college graduates in the U.S. for many years. Our estimates differ from those of the NY Fed mainly because we are assessing somewhat different populations. “Talent Disrupted” focuses on workers with a terminal bachelor’s degree (i.e., a bachelor’s degree but no advanced degree) whereas the NY Fed has typically published estimates of underemployment for individuals with a bachelor’s degree or higher. As noted in “Talent Disrupted”, underemployment tends to be considerably lower for individuals who have earned both a bachelor’s degree and an advanced degree of some sort.

Is there any historical context to the conversation about underemployment? For example, did the Great Recession of 2009 have an impact on underemployment rates? How about global impacts like the COVID-19 pandemic?

We did not specifically analyze the effects of the Great Recession or the COVID-19 pandemic as part of this report. Others who have looked at underemployment of college graduates over a much longer period of time (e.g., going back to the 1970s) have found that the percentage of college graduates working in many non-college occupations (e.g., retail sales, bartender, or driver) has greatly increased over the past several decades.