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  1. Youth Topics
  2. Employment
  3. Education and Employment

Education and Employment

Data suggest a close link between educational attainment and employment outcomes. Table 1 illustrates the relationship among level of education attained, unemployment rate, and median weekly earnings.

Higher education does not relate just to higher earnings. The Center for Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University projects that as of 2018, nearly two-thirds of jobs created in the United States will require some form of postsecondary education.1

Table 1. Median Weekly Earning and Unemployment Rate by Level of Education in 20122

Education attained Unemployment rate in 2012 (Percent) Median weekly earnings ($)
Doctoral degree 2.5 1,624
Professional degree 2.1 1,735
Master’s degree 3.5 1,300
Bachelor’s degree 4.5 1,066
Associate’s degree 6.2 785
Some college, no degree 7.7 727
High school diploma 8.3 652
Less than a high school diploma 12.4 471
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey

Note: Data are for persons ages 25 and older. Earnings are for full-time wage and salary workers.

Data from the National Center on Education Statistics’ 2012 Digest of Education Statistics suggest positive trends in high school and postsecondary completion rates and lower dropout rates:

  • In the 2009‒2010 school year, 78.2 percent of public high school students graduated on time (within four years of enrolling in high school).
  • The percentage of youth ages 16 through 24 who had dropped out of high school declined from 12.1 percent in 1990 to 7.1 percent in 2011.3
  • Students are enrolling in and completing postsecondary education, including associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees at higher rates. Specifically, compared with degrees awarded in the 2000‒2001 school year, 63 percent more associate’s degrees, 38 percent more bachelor’s degrees, 54 percent more master’s degrees, and 37 percent more doctoral degrees were completed in the 2010‒2011 school year.4

Despite these trends, a lot of work remains to ensure that students are prepared for the transition to college and career.

How Can Schools Ensure That Students Are Prepared?

Schools are using a variety of strategies to ensure that students are prepared for postsecondary education and employment. For example, schools are helping ease the transition for students by increasing

  • the rigor, engagement, and relevance of teaching and learning in secondary schools to ensure that students are ready for postsecondary school opportunities such as college and careers;
  • the number of students who graduate from high school by identifying students at risk for dropping out and intervening early; and
  • the opportunities for youth to learn about and experience careers.5

Career and College Readiness

Ensuring that students are prepared for college and career is a key educational priority in states and districts across the nation. College and career readiness includes ensuring that students

  • meet rigorous academic standards and skills,
  • develop key social emotional skills,
  • are exposed to post‒high school pathways, and
  • are able to identify and develop the skills they need for their chosen path.

Learn more about college and career readiness by visiting the U.S. Department of Education’s College & Career Readiness & Success Center (CCRS Center).

Identifying Students At Risk for Dropping Out of High School

The percentage of students graduating high school on time has slowly increased,6 but about a half-million students still drop out of high school each year.7 A wealth of research from a variety of large school districts, including Chicago and Philadelphia, has identified indicators that can help predict students’ risk of dropping out of high school, at both the middle school and the high school levels.8 The use of attendance, academic, and behavior data to identify students at risk for dropping out of high school was identified as one of six recommendations within a 2008 Institutes of Education Sciences (IES) practices guide on dropout prevention.9 Early warning systems (EWS) use readily available school data to identify students who are at risk of not graduating from or dropping out of high school, allowing educators to intervene early. Schools can use EWS to identify and support individual students who are at risk with schoolwide, targeted, or individualized interventions that match their needs. States, districts, and schools can use EWS data to examine patterns to identify and address systemic issues that may be impeding a student’s ability to graduate. Learn more about early warning systems and see examples of free early warning system tools developed by the National High School Center10 at www.earlywarningsystems.org.

Career and Technical Education

Data suggest that in 2009, some 94.16 percent of high schools students had earned at least one career and technical education credit.11 According to The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, the Association for Career and Technical Education, and the National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium, &ldquoCareer and technical education is an educational strategy for providing young people with the academic, technical, and employability skills and knowledge to pursue postsecondary training or higher education and enter a career field prepared for ongoing learning.&rdquo12 The U.S. Department of Education funds Career and Technical Education grants to help states and local schools offer programs to develop the academic, vocational, and technical skills of students in high schools, community colleges, and regional technical centers. Additional information about career and technical education and its role in College and Career readiness can be found here (PDF, 16 pages).


Skimming for Skills: Finding Skills Data
Skimming for Skills is a guide that contains links to surveys, reports, and customized data tools to help users explore labor or skill shortages, skill mismatches, and skill deficiencies. Entries note whether the survey or source supplies information on current or projected employment, job openings, occupational or industry data, and earnings. Skill-related topics include information on the education, training, or skills required for jobs; educational attainment; educational field (e.g., college major) or coursework; and the skills that individuals possess, including skill assessments.


1 Carnevale, Smith, & Strohl, 2010
2 U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013c
3 The dropout rate includes all people in the 16- to 24-year-old age group who are not enrolled in school and who have not completed a high school program, regardless of when they left school. People who left school but went on to receive a GED credential are not treated as dropouts, and those in prisons, the military, and other people not living in households are not included in this measure.
4 Synder & Dillow, 2013
5 Balfanz, Bridgeland, Bruce, & Hornig Fox, 2013
6 Synder & Dillow, 2013
7 Heckman & LaFontaine, 2007; Warren & Halpern-Manners, 2007
8 Allensworth & Easton, 2007
9 Dynarski et al., 2008
10 The National High School Center was a U.S. Department of Education‒funded Training and Technical Assistance Center from 2005 to 2013
11 U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, 2009
12 Partnership for 21st Century Skills, Association for Career and Technical Education, and the National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium, 2010

Other Resources on this Topic


Data Sources


Youth Briefs

How Individualized Education Program (IEP) Transition Planning Makes a Difference for Youth with Disabilities

Youth who receive special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004) and especially young adults of transition age, should be involved in planning for life after high school as early as possible and no later than age 16. Transition services should stem from the individual youth’s needs and strengths, ensuring that planning takes into account his or her interests, preferences, and desires for the future.

Youth Transitioning to Adulthood: How Holding Early Leadership Positions Can Make a Difference

Research links early leadership with increased self-efficacy and suggests that leadership can help youth to develop decision making and interpersonal skills that support successes in the workforce and adulthood. In addition, young leaders tend to be more involved in their communities, and have lower dropout rates than their peers. Youth leaders also show considerable benefits for their communities, providing valuable insight into the needs and interests of young people

How Trained Service Professionals and Self-Advocacy Makes a Difference for Youth with Mental Health, Substance Abuse, or Co-occurring Issues

Statistics reflecting the number of youth suffering from mental health, substance abuse, and co-occurring disorders highlight the necessity for schools, families, support staff, and communities to work together to develop targeted, coordinated, and comprehensive transition plans for young people with a history of mental health needs and/or substance abuse.

Young Adults Formerly in Foster Care: Challenges and Solutions

Nearly 30,000 youth aged out of foster care in Fiscal Year 2009, which represents nine percent of the young people involved in the foster care system that year. This transition can be challenging for youth, especially youth who have grown up in the child welfare system.

Coordinating Systems to Support Transition Age Youth with Mental Health Needs

Research has demonstrated that as many as one in five children/youth have a diagnosable mental health disorder. Read about how coordination between public service agencies can improve treatment for these youth.

Civic Engagement Strategies for Transition Age Youth

Civic engagement has the potential to empower young adults, increase their self-determination, and give them the skills and self-confidence they need to enter the workforce. Read about one youth’s experience in AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC).