by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Preston Cooper writes for the Martin Center about disturbing data linked to higher education in an Asian nation.
More advanced societies tend to have more educated citizens, which is one reason why politicians of all stripes call for sending more students to college. One country has taken that impulse to its logical extreme—but has found that more is not always better.
South Korea has a more educated population than any other country in the developed world. Seventy percent of young Koreans (ages 25-34) have completed some higher education, and a similar proportion of high school graduates continue on to college or university each year. By contrast, only 49 percent of young Americans have a degree beyond high school. The rich-world average is just 44 percent.
In every advanced nation, university graduates out-earn those with only a high school degree. But when the number of workers with a university degree rises, the number of university-level jobs often doesn’t keep pace. Korea’s glut of educated workers means that those with higher degrees earn just 24 percent more than high school graduates, compared to a 69 percent earnings boost in the United States. And in a stunning reversal of a near-universal norm, young Koreans with a university degree have a higher unemployment rate than their less-educated peers.
“High youth unemployment [in Korea] is reflective of a structural, supply-demand mismatch in the labor market,” reports economist Tieying Ma in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. The World Economic Forum estimates that nearly half of Koreans are overqualified for their jobs. Yet at the same time, employers clamor that universities gloss over many practical skills that the Korean labor market desperately needs.