Join 3,512 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


What It's Worth
June 2, 2011 9:54 PM   Subscribe

The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce released a study comparing the economic value of different college majors.
posted by reenum (29 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Bottom three reprazent!
posted by Sys Rq at 10:27 PM on June 2, 2011


Hooray! I'm an outlier!
posted by ubernostrum at 10:30 PM on June 2, 2011


*Sample size was too small to be statistically valid

No respect, I tell ya.
posted by chimaera at 10:32 PM on June 2, 2011


Philosophy and Religious Studies?

Monetize the momentum of David Hume spinning in his grave and you will triple the fucking shit out of these earnings projections.
posted by joe lisboa at 11:16 PM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Liberal Arts and Humanities majors end up in the middle of the pack in terms of earnings and employment. They are the third most popular major group, and earn median incomes of $47,000. Moreover, about 40 percent of people with these majors obtain a graduate degree, reaping a return of almost 50 percent. Liberal Arts and Humanities majors generally fare well in the workforce, ending up in professional, white-collar, and education occupations.

Well, that debunks all those predictable hurr hurr jokes about humanities grads flipping burgers.
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:17 PM on June 2, 2011 [6 favorites]


I feel a lot better about graduate school now that I know that earnings for my major (biochemistry) to go up an average of 101%.
posted by halogen at 12:44 AM on June 3, 2011


Wow. This is a really amazing resource; thanks for posting it!

Linguistics BAs are 78% female, but earn $14K less than their male counterparts. Not sure what to make of that.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:52 AM on June 3, 2011


Welp, I'm fucked.
posted by SNWidget at 12:58 AM on June 3, 2011


Linguistics BAs are 78% female, but earn $14K less than their male counterparts. Not sure what to make of that.

Booooooo.
posted by ntartifex at 1:00 AM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Biochemistry less than/equal to Social Science? wut?
posted by WhitenoisE at 1:15 AM on June 3, 2011


Those humanities numbers seem very dubious to me.

The graduate degree 'boosts' must be elevated substantially by the fact that the 'graduate degree' the person goes on to to isn't limited to a grad degree in the same subject.

Lots of people use history degrees (particularly US history degrees) as prep for law schools and the high percentage of language students who use the language as prep for law school or an MBA was also pretty well known when I was in school. (Last I looked, the major with the highest scores on the GMAT on average was Slavic languages, followed by 3 others.) Lots of humanities students will also go on to Masters degrees in education and become (regularly employed, decently paid) teachers. This is possibly also why social work is ranked so low - most people who go on to a Masters after an SW BA seem toactually go on to a Masters in Social Work and continue social work careers.

Even the BA-only numbers for some humanities subjects must be elevated by this effect - many US history majors, for example, will go out into the workforce presenting themselves as having done 'pre-law' because they were actually in a pre-law track or program.
posted by Wylla at 1:45 AM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


For another point of view, College Major and Job Satisfaction.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:59 AM on June 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


Those humanities numbers seem very dubious to me.

The graduate degree 'boosts' must be elevated substantially by the fact that the 'graduate degree' the person goes on to to isn't limited to a grad degree in the same subject.


The salary data they present is limited to people with terminal bachelors though.

You need to take that into context as well. Also note negative correlation between % of graduates who receive a post-grad degree and compensation.
posted by JPD at 4:13 AM on June 3, 2011


Wylla: the humanities - philosophy, history - are the natural preparation for a law degree. It's like you're saying "hey, they're cheating, they include bio majors who go on to do medicine."

also, grad degrees in the humanities can bear as much or as little resemblance to undergrad degrees in the same "major" as law. Certainly my grad work is very little like my undergrad.
posted by jb at 4:29 AM on June 3, 2011


Every American parent ought to read this report before it is too late to smack some sense into their stupid teenage kid.

"You want to major in WHAT? Not on my dime, Sparky!"
posted by Renoroc at 4:29 AM on June 3, 2011


Every American parent ought to read this report before it is too late to smack some sense into their stupid teenage kid

Actually I don't think it says that. Other than three outliers - engineering, comp sci on the high side (although they have low rates of graduate study) and Education on the low side (where the majority actually ends up getting a grad degree) - the actual outcomes for middle 50% are pretty similar.
posted by JPD at 4:37 AM on June 3, 2011


The real big take away here, I think, is that Peter Thiel is wrong: getting a bachelors is unambiguously better than not getting one. While it's clear that there are advantages and disadvantages, financial and otherwise, to choosing a particular major and a particular career path, as an 18 year old, your best bet is always going to be choosing a BA pathway you have a reasonable chance of completing: one third of college students in the US fail to complete their bachelors in six years.

JPD is right about the outliers. On the high side, applied sciences are big money makers because they're high demand fields. On the low side, education is an outlier because local governments mandate salary structures for teachers which only incentivize seniority and graduate degrees, and don't track either with demand or performance. Everything else is an averages game - there's lots of wealthy overlords and lots of peons from every discipline.

Now, might this also suggest that kids are taking on way too much debt relevant to their earning potential? Absolutely. Are skyrocketing costs mostly to blame for that? Sure.
posted by Apropos of Something at 5:39 AM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you go in and look at the error bars for different carrers Renoroc, the case for "you should study X" based on potential future earnings. Also, this doesn't even consider the fact that if you can't find work in your field for five years (or ever) it doesn't matter what people in your field are earning.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:39 AM on June 3, 2011


On the high side, applied sciences are big money makers because they're high demand fields.

I actually think this is only partially right, the other important thing about the applied sciences is that historically a bachelors degree was viewed as terminal for many of the positions. That has an impact in terms of selecting who and who does not go onto to graduate study.

Put another way, lots of very very smart and driven engineers stop at their bachelors and enter the workforce permanently, whereas in many other fields someone equally as skilled and driven would have gone on to graduate study, and thus their salary would be excluded from the population in this study. I have no idea how you correct for that selection bias, but it is real.
posted by JPD at 6:32 AM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Grad school in biology/life science was looking okay, until I clicked through to the breakdown. Plant ecology: poor life choice, apparently! Maybe I'll try to reclassify myself as miscellaneous.
posted by pemberkins at 6:56 AM on June 3, 2011


Physical science undergrad and social science grad, feelin' pretty good.
posted by subdee at 7:46 AM on June 3, 2011


Linguistics BAs are 78% female, but earn $14K less than their male counterparts. Not sure what to make of that.

I'm not terribly surprised by this fact. I know this is just antecdotal, but I was a linguistics undergrad. My department was heavily female yet, consistently, the male students were encouraged to take research oriented classes (stats, neuroscience, etc), and the female students teaching related.
posted by Ideal Impulse at 8:00 AM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've always heard that mathematics was among the best pre-law degrees, jb. I'd imagine ditto for engineering & physics. And there are hoards of lawyers hearing only $50k too, presumably not those holding technical bachelors degrees though.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:39 AM on June 3, 2011


jb: "Wylla: the humanities - philosophy, history - are the natural preparation for a law degree. It's like you're saying "hey, they're cheating, they include bio majors who go on to do medicine."
"

Well, duh. This survey is limited to people without graduate degrees, and I admire their restraint and focus. That said, I'd love to see a followup study with that information too -- specifically what percentage of the postgraduates got degrees in subjects that were substantively the same as their undergrad.

People working in my own major (Physics) are listed as working primarily in computers, management, engineering, retail, and education. Those of us who don't board the train to academia (shudder) apparently don't work in research at all. I'd be curious to see what percentage of Physics students get graduate degrees in some other subject, given that we were constantly told that a Physics PhD was the "one true way."

I'm kinda curious about the engineers. Most firms won't hire somebody who isn't an EIT or PE. Getting either of those certifications with a real engineering degree is technically possible, but really difficult and awkward. You can't just register and walk into the exam like you would with the SAT or GRE.

That all said, it's an OK good degree to have as an undergrad, if only because everything else seems easy by comparison. If you can get past HR departments who automatically reject you because the major 'isn't on the list', it's pretty nice to have on a resume too. Still, it'd be nice to work in a field where I have actual formal training for once.... (sigh...shoulda just majored in compsci...)
posted by schmod at 9:52 AM on June 3, 2011


Profession-by-profession, their numbers match my anecdotal experience pretty perfectly. That said, I don't think Peter Theil is entirely wrong (though he could focus on more than entrepreneurialism). More accurately, I think Mike Rowe is right.

Vocational education can be way more profitable, and important, than an undergraduate education—including both school-based vocational programs and workforce-based ones. Much as "people with bachleors degrees" is a highly-differentiated group, "people without bachelors degrees" is, as well.

This is true for a number of blue-collar and white-collar jobs, at least in my experience. Working through a union apprenticeship program to become a licensed plumber is more profitable than whole mess of bachelor's degrees. Graduating with a film degree and student loans is less profitable than humping a few years as a sorely underpaid assistant at a post studio, where you gain the skills and connections to work as a freelance video editor. And so on. It's not always a terrible idea to take the money you would use on tuition, and use it to support yourself through a few years of internship or apprenticeship.

So, interesting study, as far as major-to-major comparisons go. But I still think the "bachelors degree is always better" claim is bunk.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 10:01 AM on June 3, 2011


And there are hoards of lawyers hearing only $50k too, presumably not those holding technical bachelors degrees though.

Ha. The market for patent prosecutors is in the toilet with the rest of the profession. What's more, a lot of big companies (e.g. Microsoft) are increasingly turning to offshoring for a lot of their patent searching and drafting, so it's unlikely to get much better any time soon.
posted by jedicus at 10:33 AM on June 3, 2011


Huh. This is odd, in that it contradicts a lot of what I was told in J-school, which is that journalism majors are consistently one of the worst compensated. I also wonder how long these folks have been in their positions — starting salaries for journalism are notoriously low.
posted by klangklangston at 11:03 AM on June 3, 2011


schmod: "I'm kinda curious about the engineers. Most firms won't hire somebody who isn't an EIT or PE. Getting either of those certifications with a real engineering degree is technically possible, but really difficult and awkward. You can't just register and walk into the exam like you would with the SAT or GRE."

As I understand it, the Industrial Exemption means as long as you're hired by a company to do engineering for them, you don't need to be a PE. So very few EEs actually take the test, since they're designing products and the firm itself takes liability.
posted by pwnguin at 10:34 PM on June 3, 2011


klangklangston: "Huh. This is odd, in that it contradicts a lot of what I was told in J-school, which is that journalism majors are consistently one of the worst compensated. I also wonder how long these folks have been in their positions — starting salaries for journalism are notoriously low"

The data paints a story here. First the difference between 75 and 25 percentiles the largest. There's more graduate degree earners, and yet something like twenty percent of those with jobs are part time. My interpretation: the field was better some time ago, but recent graduates are fighting for scraps. People disappointed with the market go back to school to out compete their peers, but they don't generally wander from the field.
posted by pwnguin at 10:58 PM on June 3, 2011


« Older The Axolotl Song...  |  Meaghan Smith... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments