How do they fare on this count? But ignorance of the future is no reason to prepare students for occupations they almost surely won’t have—and if we know anything about the future of work, we know that the demand for authors, historians, political scientists, physicists, and mathematicians will stay low.

Although the college vs. workforce debate is more relevant than ever, there are important factors to consider before forgoing a college degree. The disconnect between college curricula and the job market has a banal explanation: Educators teach what they know—and most have as little firsthand knowledge of the modern workplace as I do.

I believe wholeheartedly in the life of the mind. However, your interests, ambitions, and aptitudes should ultimately determine your approach to higher education and whether your career path begins with academia or with real-world experience. If she tried to leap straight into her first white-collar job, insisting, “I have the right stuff to graduate, I just choose not to,” employers wouldn’t believe her. Today’s entry-level labor market looks solid, but it’s not breaking historical records. Conversely, they’re less likely to click on postings for quant-focused and financial roles (including economist jobs, sadly!). Industries in which guilds and unions dominate, such as construction trades like plumbing, carpentry, and electrical, have traditionally offered apprentice programs as a means of entry. An excess supply of workers is particularly harmful to employees working in industries with low barriers to entry for new employees—that is, those with jobs that don't require a degree or any specialized training. students who aren’t cut out for academic success. One research team found that from the early 1970s through the mid‑1990s, the average education level within 500 occupational categories rose by 1.2 years. When we look at countries around the world, a year of education appears to raise an individual’s income by 8 to 11 percent. The labor market doesn’t pay you for the useless subjects you master; it pays you for the preexisting traits you signal by mastering them. Together that means that the bottom quarter of recent grads make less today than they have in the past. There are some other red flags. Recent grads are more likely to be underemployed — in jobs that don’t require a college degree — today than between 1998 and 2003. Harvard Business Publishing is an affiliate of Harvard Business School.

Defenders of traditional education often appeal to the obscurity of the future. Will the worker gain an increase in bargaining power or leverage for a higher wage? According to McKinsey’s Education to Employment report, 70% of educators surveyed believe graduates are prepared for the job market.