Christian Barnard writes for the Martin Center about potential long-term economic impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The types of jobs available before and after the Great Recession starkly differ. With the after-effects of the economic slowdown thanks to the coronavirus, the pattern could be repeated.

Many of the jobs usually held by less-educated Americans before the recession have disappeared, while workers with at least some college education disproportionately occupy growing industries, according to Georgetown University’s Center for Education and the Workforce (CEW). In their popular 2013 report “Recovery: Job Growth and Education Requirements Through 2020,” CEW concluded that around two-thirds of all jobs in 2020 would require some college education. CEW’s 2013 report is their most recent one and aggregates all the relevant education and economic data in one place.

But the extent to which employers are actually requiring more college education than in the past to fill good jobs isn’t so clear-cut. CEW’s methods for defining how much college education is “required” are hotly disputed. Moreover, employers often complain that college graduates are ill-prepared and don’t have the skills needed in the workforce. Graduates aren’t happy about how costly degrees have become, either.

Contrary to what advocates for requiring 16 years of education may say, there’s strong evidence that young people don’t always need a four-year degree. For many good careers, a shorter college program or even no college can set them on a good path.

Taking CEW’s methods at face-value, more clarity is needed for their claim that two-thirds of today’s workers need some college education. The CEW report isn’t saying that 65 percent of the workforce needs a bachelor’s degree—a “college education” means a vocational or professional certificate, an associate degree, or a bachelor’s degree. Almost half (30 percent) of the jobs included in their 65 percent figure need only an associate degree or a vocational or professional certification. The other 35 percent require at least a bachelor’s degree.