How College Grads Can Transform Once Routine Work

Your article "Just how welcome is the job market to college grads?" (Economic Trends, Nov. 9) may give readers the wrong impression on the importance of increasing higher education in America as a competitive strategy for the 21st century.

The author cites research that "the percent of college grads employed in occupations not requiring a college degree--retail sales, farm work, clerical, assembly-line jobs, mechanics, and many services--rose from about 11% to 18%." The implication is that we are turning out more college-educated people than needed. It is important to realize that looking at job categories doesn't tell us whether the person's education is being utilized. Putting higher-educated people into formerly routine work often changes the nature of the job.

Certainly, educated farmers have increased agricultural output. Mechanics today must understand complicated manuals, and college-educated people can be more productive as mechanics.

Innovation in production or paper-processing is more likely to occur from the participation of "overeducated" workers. Also, U.S. manufacturing competes best in world markets when it uses more technical processes that give a competitive advantange to a higher-educated work force.

For example, cellular manufacturing, where parts are manufactured from start to finish by a team of workers, has led manufacturers to use more college-educated production workers because they raise productivity.

Elizabeth C. Bogan

Senior Lecturer in Economics

Princeton University

Princeton, N.J.