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Chapter 7: Postsecondary Outcomes and Employment

Chapter 7 examines postsecondary outcomes for males and females across racial/ethnic groups. These indicators describe differences among adults with varying levels of educational attainment, labor force participation, and earnings. Additionally, information is presented on undergraduate fields of study and on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) occupations.

Postsecondary graduates enter the job market well positioned for labor market success, and within a few years most earn more than their non-postsecondary-going peers. In general, adults with higher levels of education have higher median incomes and lower unemployment rates than their less educated peers. For example, in 2009, young adults ages 2534 with a bachelor's degree earned more than twice as much as young adults without a high school diploma or its equivalent, 50 percent more than young adults with a high school diploma or its equivalent, and 25 percent more than young adults with an associate's degree (NCES 2011).

Unemployment also differs by educational attainment. In 2010, a smaller percentage of young adults with a bachelor's degree or higher were unemployed than were their peers with lower levels of education (NCES 2011). For example, 4 percent of those with a bachelor's degree or higher were unemployed, compared with 7 percent of those with an associate's degree, 10 percent of those with some college education, 13 percent of high school completers, and 14 percent of those who had not completed high school.

Rising concern about America's ability to maintain its competitive position in the global economy has renewed interest in STEM education. A recent study comparing postsecondary outcomes of STEM and non-STEM postsecondary entrants 6 years after their initial enrollment found that undergraduates majoring in STEM fields had a higher rate of completing a bachelor's degree program (35 percent vs. 2729 percent) and a lower rate of leaving a postsecondary institution without earning any degree (27 percent vs. 3336 percent) than their non-STEM peers (Chen 2009). Recent data show that STEM employee earnings are significantly higher than non-STEM employee earnings, regardless of race, ethnicity, or nativity.