How Much Protection Does a College Degree Afford?
This report examines the impact of the Great Recession on the early labor market outcomes of recent college graduates compared to less-educated groups.
Past research from Pew's Economic Mobility Project has shown the power of a college education to both promote upward mobility and prevent downward mobility. In the wake of the Great Recession, however, many have questioned whether the advantageous market situation of college graduates has suffered under the pressure of the economic downturn.
This report, How Much Protection Does a College Degree Afford?, explores whether recent college graduates weathered the recession more successfully than less-educated groups. Using data from the 2003–2011 Current Population Survey for 21- through 24-year-olds, it reveals that a four-year college degree helped shield recent graduates from a range of poor outcomes during the Great Recession, including unemployment, low-skill jobs, and lesser wages.
- Although all 21–24-year-olds experienced declines in employment and wages during the recession, the decline was considerably more severe for those with only high school or associate degrees.
- The comparatively high employment rate of recent college graduates was not driven by a sharp increase in those settling for lesser jobs or lower wages.
- The share of non-working graduates seeking further education did not change markedly during the recession.
- Out-of-work college graduates were able to find jobs during the downturn with more success than their less-educated counterparts.
The findings show a real deterioration over the course of the recession in the market position of recent college graduates. However, these effects were quite small when compared with those experienced by high school and associate degree-holders.