Apparently, employers care about your degree again

Well there's an elitist plot twist.

Rearview shot of a young man on graduation day
LumiNola/E+/Getty Images

It was the summer of 2020 and society was arguably on the verge of collapse. I was unemployed, attending protests and getting woozy on mango White Claws at the park. As much of the world remained shut down, everything that I had worked for up to that point seemed utterly irrelevant — most of all, my college degree.

It seems things are slowly turning around — for some people, at least. Last month, the unemployment rate for college graduates was 2.5%, compared to 5.8% among people with only high school degrees, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics via the New York Times. On top of that, 6.2% of college graduates between the ages of 22 and 27 were unemployed in June, compared to 9.6% of those without degrees, according to a study by the Federal Reserve Bank.

There are many reasons that the employment rate among college graduates is up, including the fact that companies are attempting to re-staff after mass layoffs in early 2020. Also, recruiters are apparently feeling the pressure to attract and retain college-educated workers as thousands took career pivots during the pandemic or opted for more flexible gig economy jobs, according to Forbes.

The growing thirst for peeps with degrees comes at a time when many of us are re-examining our relationship to higher education altogether. Before the pandemic, the allure of universities was already beginning to wane, but fell flat on its face in the past year. the American higher education system is undeniably riddled with elitism and false security, after all.

By November of 2020, college enrollment fell by 6.8%, more than four times the pre-pandemic rate, according to Edweek. On top of that, a March survey found that just 53% of high school students said they expected to attend a 4-year college, according to CNBC. And honestly, who can blame them? At a time when a lot of universities remain prohibitively expensive and no longer guarantee a stable job, it seems harder to justify going through all that trouble (aka debt).

While there’s in uptick in hiring grads, not all of them are benefitting equally, of course. The people most likely to reap the rewards of mass re-hirings now are people in STEM, who already had the upper hand before the pandemic. What could be different this time, though, is that there seems to be a push to hire more graduates of color after the racial reckonings of last year (67% of people in STEM jobs are still white, according to the Pew Research Center).

Per the Times, the consulting firm PwC said they were recruiting from 35 HBCUs and in case they forgot, last year, 37 other American companies — including Nike and Bank of America — vowed to hire 1 million Black workers in the course of 10 years and also help pay for their college degrees. But as we all know by now, posting a black square on Instagram is a far cry from enacting real systemic change and we have yet to see whether corporations will stick to their promises in the long run.

If they do fulfill them, though, we could be entering the era of the BIPOC graduate. Look, I know it’s expensive as hell, but don’t throw away the prospects of getting your diploma just yet.