How much education is enough?

One of the first things Rudy Crew, Oregon's first and newly appointed chief education officer who starts July 1, may want to check on is Oregon's idea of how many people should go to college.

The Legislature has adopted the 40-40-20 goal. It means that by 2025, 40 percent of Oregon adults should have a college degree, another 40 percent a two-year degree or some kind of post-secondary certification, and the remaining 20 percent at least a high school diploma.

Let's agree that everybody should have a high school diploma.

But as for those high percentages of post-secondary credentials, chances are they won't be needed. Many of the people who strive to get those credentials will not be able to find commensurate work.

This assumes that Oregon is more or less like the rest of the country, and that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics knows what it's talking about. In February, the bureau issued its latest forecast of future job openings by the year 2020:

Job openings requiring a bachelor's degree, master's, doctoral or professional degree will total 20 percent. Openings where the applicants will need an associate degree or equivalent will be about 10 percent.

And nearly 70 percent of all job openings in the United States will be able to be filled with people who have only a high school diploma — with nearly half of those openings being available to people with "less than high school."

The Oregon goal is based on an optimistic vision of what kind of work will be done in this state in 10 or 20 years. And it is no doubt true that the best-paying jobs then will be those where the requirement for credentials is highest, just as now.

But it's a mistake — and a costly one at that — to base education policies on projections that are so far removed from what experts on the job market project.

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