For the first time in history, there are now more unemployed Americans who attended at least some college than people who only graduated high school or dropped out of high school, Bureau of Labor Statistics data show.
Seasonally unadjusted BLS data from April show that about 4.7 million of the nation's 9 million unemployed either graduated from a four-year or a two-year college program or attended college for some time before dropping out. A smaller 4.3 million share of America's unemployed graduated only from high school or didn't finish high school. Jed Graham from Investor's Business Daily graphed the change.
[Related: Is college still worth it?]
This isn't necessarily bad news for college-bound kids, however. First of all, less educated people are more likely to not be counted as officially unemployed because they've dropped out of the labor force and stopped looking for work altogether. (Millions of these people are referred to as "discouraged workers," and they don't show up in monthly unemployment reports.) Secondly, less than 4 percent of college graduates over the age of 25 were unemployed in April, a far smaller share than the 7.9 percent unemployment rate for high school grads. High school drop outs, meanwhile, faced 12.5 percent unemployment.
But what the surprising statistic does show is that attending some college without attaining either an associates degree or a bachelors can leave people saddled with debt but facing similar jobless rates as those with only a high school diploma. The unemployment rate in April for people who attended some college but did not receive a degree was 8 percent, nearly the same rate high school graduates faced.
Many American colleges do a fairly dismal job of getting their students to graduate, especially for-profit schools and community colleges, which tend to serve poorer and part-time students. At for profits, only 22 percent of students will get a bachelors in six years, compared to a 55 percent graduation rate at four-year public colleges, writes The Education Trust in a November 2010 report. And fewer than 10 percent of community college students graduate with an associates degree in three years, according to a 2009 study from the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems.
Lastly, this sea change also reflects the big increase in the share of Americans who at least try to get a college degree. According to the Census Bureau, 58 percent of Americans have attended some college, with about 30 percent of people overall attaining a bachelor's degree. Twenty years earlier, only 43 percent Americans had attended some college or had graduated.