The majority of high school graduates in the United States go straight to college, with government statistics indicating that four-year college graduates will earn roughly double what college nongraduates make over their lifetime. Gallup’s data shows a strong earnings-college connection in the work force, whereby high-income jobs are still dominated by college graduates, while college nongraduates by and large hold middle- to low-income jobs. However, changes in the nation’s economy in the past decade, coupled with a revolution in technology, may be challenging the traditional college “bargain.”
Fewer than half of adults employed full or part time in the U.S. (43%) say the type of work they do requires a bachelor’s or a more advanced degree. Fifty-seven percent say it does not, unchanged from 2005 but down slightly from 61% in 2002.
Two-thirds of workers with professional, executive or managerial jobs say a college degree is needed in their line of work. Among those in all other white-collar jobs, the rate drops to 50%, with an equal number saying a college degree is unnecessary. The great majority of those in blue-collar jobs say their work does not require a bachelor’s degree or greater. The plurality of Americans (42%) hold a professional job, 38% are in some other white-collar position, and 18% are in blue-collar jobs.
The bulk of postgraduates (86%) say they are doing a job that requires at least a college degree. At the other end of the spectrum, large majorities of those with less than a four-year degree or no college experience say a college degree is not required for what they do—though between 17% and 37% say it is.
In between are workers who went no farther than a bachelor’s. Employment among members of this group appears less linked with their academic credentials, with 59% saying a college degree is needed for what they do and 41% saying it is not.
Results for this poll are based on telephone interviews conducted from August 7 to 11, with a random sample of 1,039 adults who are employed full or part time, ages 18 and older; all 50 states and the District of Columbia are represented.