It’s cap-and-gown season, and as high school seniors get ready to move on to college and college seniors prepare for a life after school, we have two messages: Congratulations and good luck.

The second wish is necessary because the employment prospects for graduates these days are not what these students may have been anticipating as they struggled to pay for their educations. Employment for recent college graduates has dropped sharply in the past two years, and members of this year’s class are going to find a lot of their recent classmates stacked up in front of them in the employment line.

The New York Times released a survey that found that only 56 percent of 2010 grads have found jobs that require a college degree. The rest were either working in unskilled jobs, for which a diploma is not required, or not working at all. The fact that many of these former students are also servicing a heavy debt load makes this trend all the more disturbing.

Some will point to this survey as proof that a college diploma is not worth the money, but the problem is much more widespread and complicated than that.

College is expensive, but even with these disappointing numbers, there is still plenty of evidence that it is worthwhile. The workers who were hit the hardest during the recession were those with the least education, and they are also the people who are having the hardest time re-entering the work force.

What the graduates are facing is an economy that grows too slowly to create enough jobs to put people back to work and still employ the new members of the labor force. The U.S. gross domestic product is slightly ahead of where it was before the recession hit in 2007, but the economy employs about 7 million fewer people. If you count the “discouraged workers” who are no longer looking for jobs and those part-time employees who really want full-time jobs, the real job deficit is closer to 24 million.

Every public policy measure on the state and federal levels should be put to this test: Will it promote job growth? If not, it should be put aside for a time when we have the luxury to fight ideological battles.

In the meantime, students should not be discouraged by what faces them after graduation. Even in a tough labor market, finishing school is the best thing they can do to position themselves for success.