Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.


Counseling and Human Development

Degree Program

Counseling and Personnel Services, PhD

Committee Chair

Adelson, Jill

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Snyder, Kate

Committee Member

Snyder, Kate

Committee Member

Valentine, Jeffrey

Committee Member

Gross, Jacob

Author's Keywords

postsecondary education; economic success; field mismatch; education level mismatch


This dissertation explored the relationship between postsecondary education and economic success through a person-centered lens. A sample of 365,315 employed individuals between the ages of 25 and 35 from the American Community Survey (ACS) were used in combination with data from three occupational databases (O*NET, the Occupational Outlook Handbook, the NORC occupational dataset) to examine this topic. The various sources of data were merged together by occupation to permit examination of occupational characteristics and creation of two measures of education and occupation match: 1) match in education level attained and required, and 2) match in field of study and field of work. To examine rates of education and occupation match, I conducted descriptive analyses. To identify latent classes of economic success and to understand the demographic, educational, and occupational characteristics that predict membership in those classes, I conducted latent class analyses (LCA). Based on the results, I identified several findings of both practical and empirical interest. First, I identified relatively high rates of education and occupation match. Approximately 43.2% of the sample was overeducated for their occupation, 68.9% of the Bachelor’s degree holders were working in fields unrelated to their degree, and 31.8% of Bachelor’s degree holders were both overeducated and working in unrelated fields. Second, the majority of non-traditional postsecondary students (who obtain more than a High School degree but less than a 4-year degree) experienced average to high levels of economic success that were similar to the levels experienced by traditional 4-year college graduates. Third, occupational characteristics contributed more to the understanding of economic success than educational (i.e., attained education and field of study) or demographic characteristics (i.e., age, race/ethnicity, and gender). Finally, several different pathways to economic success existed; including pathways to high levels of success among individuals in occupations with no education requirements and pathways to relatively low levels of success among traditional 4-year college graduates. As a whole, these results provide insight into the current value of a postsecondary education.