‘Worthless’ Degrees: Gen-Zers Are Graduating From College and Still Can’t Find Jobs

By: Lauren Fokas | Published: Jun 14, 2024

Higher education has always been a big part of the American dream; for centuries young Americans have assumed that if they work hard enough, they will be able to attend the college or university of their choosing, which will then lead them to a perfect and lucrative career.

However, this is no longer an absolute truth. In 2024, higher education is not directly leading to successful careers or substantial salaries. In fact, for some, their college degree feels completely worthless.

College Graduates Are Less Hopeful Than Ever

Historically, the day of one’s college graduation is one of the best days of their lives. They used to be incredibly excited to transition into the next chapter of their lives, hopeful that they would quickly find the job of their dreams and become a part of the “real world.”

Several college graduates smile with their diplomas on graduation day

Source: Freepik

But, sadly, less than half of today’s college graduates are confident that they will find successful and fulfilling careers after school. And their hopelessness is not necessarily unfounded.

40% of College Grads Are Underemployed

According to data collected by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, in 2023, 40% of recent college graduates were underemployed. That means nearly half of America’s young people were working jobs below their skill or educational level.

A photograph of a college diploma below a graduation cap

Source: iStock

Essentially, many young college graduates are not only not getting the jobs of their dreams, they’re actually working in positions they could have applied for without a degree.

Why Aren’t College Graduates Getting the Jobs They Want?

The question, of course, is why aren’t college graduates getting the jobs they want and studied for? Studies show that there are four main reasons.

A young man on his living room floor looks stressed while working on his laptop

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Some companies aren’t hiring recent graduates, other companies have opened their applications to non-grads, there are no entry-level positions, and major industries are not hiring.

Many Companies Aren’t Thrilled With the Most Recent Graduates

A recent report from Intelligent showed that a whopping 38% of companies are avoiding hiring recent college graduates. The report also noted that 58% of managers and executives believe the most recent grads are unprepared for real work.

A woman holds a blue and white sign in a store window that reads “Now Hiring”

Source: Freepik

Of those polled, the majority reported that America’s young adults have unrealistic salary expectations, cannot hold eye contact, don’t dress appropriately, and simply aren’t willing or able to follow the necessary requirements of the job.

Several Big US Companies Have Opened Their Applications to Non-Grads

Additionally, even those recent graduates who are mature enough to function in a work environment are struggling as the competition has become much stiffer. Historically, many big name companies only accepted applications from college graduates, but that has changed.

A businesswoman places a resume in a black wire box

Source: Adobe Stock

Companies like IBM, Dell, Bank of America, Google, Delta Airlines, and Accenture, all recently announced that applicants no longer need to have a college degree. Which, of course means those with degrees are now fighting for the job against hundreds if not thousands of more candidates.


There Are no Real Entry-Level Positions

While the pool of candidates grows, the actual number of positions for young adults seems to be shrinking. These days, there are fewer and fewer true “entry-level” positions available at prominent companies.

A faceless person types on their laptop while the screen reads “Job Search”

Source: iStock

The majority of the job postings that are labeled entry-level specify that they are looking for applicants with three to five years of relevant job experience, which, of course, recent grads don’t have.


The Companies People Want to Work for Are Laying Off Their Staff

Moreover, while there are certainly many businesses hiring, they are looking for nurses, teachers, or employees to work in marketing, sales, or human resources.

A woman looks sad as she holds a box of her possessions after getting fired from her job

Source: Freepik

However, many of the many recent college graduates studied technology and sciences, two industries which have actively laid off thousands of people in the past few years.


College Students Claim They Weren’t Properly Prepared for the Workforce

Although some former students are blaming the corporations for their lack of entry-level positions and general dissatisfaction of new graduates, others say it is really their schools’ fault that they can’t find the job they want.

A counselor holding a clipboard speaks to several adult women

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In a recent study conducted by the Mary Christie Institute, two in every five graduates believe their college did not adequately prepare them or teach them the skills they need to succeed in the workforce.


US Colleges Will See a Significant Decrease in Attendance

As the intrinsic worth of a college degree seems to be decreasing, its financial value is increasing. As of 2024, the average cost of a four-year degree is between $108,600 and $234,500, depending on the university.

A photograph of hands holding several US $100 bills next to a college diploma and cap, representing college tuition

Source: Freepik

For years, young Americans have assumed that the extreme debt they will put themselves in to go to college will be worth it in the long run when they land a fantastic job, but now that a career is certainly not guaranteed, it’s highly likely that universities and colleges around the country will see a significant decline in applications.


The Next Generation Will Likely Attend a Trade School or Community College Instead

In fact, the next generation will likely choose more practical and affordable options, such as trade schools or community colleges.

Two students learn how to weld from a teacher at a trade school

Source: Depositphotos

Experts believe that the trend is shifting for young Americans toward educational institutions that cost far less and give them the tangible skills they need to get a job immediately after graduation.


What’s Next for America’s Higher Education?

Higher education and specifically four-year institutions have been an important part of America’s rich history. But it seems like now, the tides are changing. The next generation doesn’t want to be riddled with student debt just to be told they aren’t the right candidate for their dream job.

A female college graduate stands on the side of the road with a sign that reads “Now What?”

Source: Adobe Stock

Although it’s impossible to say what’s next for America’s higher education system, it certainly looks like Americans have realized college isn’t the guarantee it used to be.