A higher degree of preparation

(MCT) – About 1,488,000 bachelor’s degrees are expected to be conferred by U.S. colleges and universities in 2006-2007.

Many graduates, immediately or eventually, will continue on to get master’s or other postgraduate degrees.

I don’t want to scare all those happy soon-to-be bachelor’s degree holders, but here’s what I sometimes hear from human resource officers: “A master’s is the new bachelor’s.”

A bachelor’s degree once met the minimum requirement for most white-collar jobs, but some employers now consider a master’s to be the baseline for hiring.

Part of the reason is the increased specialization and sophistication of jobs, and part is because most employers have cut budgets for on-the-job training. They want people who are ready to jump in and swim.

At the same time, surveys indicate that the largest percentage of current and projected job openings require “only” an associate’s degree or equivalent specialized training, especially in the growing information-technology, health-care and skilled-trades industries.

The old wisdom – that more education equals more lifetime earning power – still appears to apply, but not for everyone. I’ve met car service technicians who make more than $100,000 a year and social workers with master’s degrees who earn less than $30,000.

In short, there’s no direct education-to-income guarantee. But, fortunately for graduates at any level above high school, the job market for this year’s crop looks pretty strong.

CollegeGrad.com said hiring of the bachelor’s class of 2007 is expected to be up 7.3 percent over last year.

“Job Outlook 2007” on JobWeb.com said employers plan to hire 17.4 percent more new college graduates this year than last.

The consensus outlook calls for the biggest demand for bachelor’s degree holders in accounting; business administration; computer and information sciences; electrical, mechanical and civil engineering; marketing and public relations; and finance and economics.

The teaching and nursing fields need workers with all relevant levels of education.