College Degrees Employers Want Most

March 22, 2012 by staff 

College Degrees Employers Want Most, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum hit on a hot-button issue over the weekend when he called President Barack Obama “a snob” for his views on higher education. “He wants everybody in America to go to college,” Santorum said.

The Tea Party may have loved the jab, but Santorum’s comment touched on a real issue facing businesses that is rarely discussed in education policy debates: a lack of well-trained high-school graduates ready for the workforce.

Experts say the problem is the result of a trend that dates to the Reagan era: a well-intentioned push toward more college-prep at the expense of vocational and technical programs in high schools.

“We began to focus on book learning, and ‘vocational’ became a dirty word,” said Anthony P. Carnevale, director of the Center of Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University.

As a result, although Census data show a record 30.4 percent of U.S. adults now have a bachelor’s degree or higher, there’s a mismatch between the skills many students acquire in those four years and what employers say they need to fill jobs.

Obama responded to Santorum Monday, at least obliquely, saying, “When I speak about higher education we’re not just talking about a four-year degree. We’re talking about somebody going to a community college and getting trained for that manufacturing job and is now required to handle a million-dollar piece of equipment.”

Drew Greenblatt could use more workers like that. Greenblatt, president of metal fabrication company Marlin Steel Wire Products in Baltimore, said machines in his factory sit idle because even at $30 an hour, he can’t find people to operate them.

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