Learning for Life – Learning for a Living

Learning for Life – Learning for a Living

  • July 29th, 2019

Are College Degrees in Line with Occupational Projections?

Learning for Life – Learning for a Living

Colleges provide their students many kinds of insights and knowledge. Professors emphasize that what students learn in class, they learn for life. An alma mater generously nurtures her pupils with wisdom.

But in these times, is wisdom enough? A recent report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the demand for certain occupations for the years 1996-2006. It would be in the interest of both students and society as a whole if Alabama’s supply of college graduates matched the demands of Alabama’s labor market. This article limits the comparison of supply and demand to three fields: 1) Computer & Information Sciences, 2) Health Professionals & Related Sciences, and 3) Psychology.

The Alabama Commission on Higher Education (ACHE) reports the following numbers of students graduated from a public or private four-year college in Alabama between 1991 and 1996.

Table 1: Undergraduates from Alabama Universities (“Supply”)
Avg. Number of Graduates per year (1991-96) Avg. Increase per year (linear trend 1991-96) Accumulated Supply 1997-2006
(if trend continues)
Computer & Information Sciences 482 +12 5,510
Health Professionals & Related Sciences 1,759 +178 31,190
Psychology 810 +45 11,655

Source: Alabama Commission on Higher Education and Center for Business and Economic Research.

Extrapolating past trends into the future gives us a ballpark figure of the expected number of students who will earn undergraduate degrees from Alabama’s colleges in the respective areas of study within the next 10 years. However, a degree with a certain major does not automatically dictate a certain profession. For example, the study of psychology is useful not only for psychologists, but also for marketing, advertising, or religious vocations. Computer science professions might be filled by engineers or business students. That kind of overlap complicates the relationship between labor supply and demand, but we are still able to draw some broad conclusions.

We used new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to estimate Alabama’s occupational demand, even though BLS provides only nationwide numbers. We assumed that the demand for nurses, psychologists and computer experts is a function of the number of people living in a specific area. Since Alabama accounts for 1.62 percent of the U.S. population, we multiplied the BLS job projections by 1.62 percent. In addition to the new jobs that are supposed to be created, the state will need replacements for people retiring or changing jobs. The following table lists the projected demand in the labor market for our three occupational areas:

Table 2: Open Positions in Alabama within the Next 10 Years (“Demand”)
Replacements Needed 1997-2006
(40% of 1996 empl.)
New Jobs Created (1997-2006) Total Demand (sum of replacements and new jobs)
Computer & Information Sciences 11,949 20,866 32,815
Health Professionals & Related Sciences 40,445 31,300 71,745
Psychology 927 178 1,105

Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics and Center for Business and Economic Research.

Our research assumes that short-term supply and demand patterns will not change dramatically-no cataclysmic natural disasters, economic depressions, or wars. If existing trends continue: * The near future supply of employees with profound computer skills will fall seriously short of demand. * Realizing that not all health occupations require a college degree, demand and supply for health occupations are fairly in line. * Even though several professions can profitably employ psychology majors, Alabama may be heading to a serious oversupply in that field. (See Table 3 for numbers.)

Table 3: Comparison of Future Labor Supply and Demand in Alabama
Estimated Supply 1997-2006 Projected Demand 1997-2006 Shortage or Surplus over 10-year Period
Computer & Information Sciences 5,510 32,815 27,305 (shortage)
Health Professionals & Related Sciences 31,190 71,745 40,555 (shortage)
Psychology 11,655 1,105 10,550 (surplus)

Source: The University of Alabama, Center for Business and Economic Research.

A comparison for a single state, such as the overview we have done, has many shortcomings, since students do not stop at a state’s border when they are looking for jobs. Nevertheless, the differentials between supply and demand ratios for some fields of study should give pause whether Alabama students are on the right track for occupations of the future.

Stephan Droxner
Graduate Research Assistant