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Georgetown Researchers: Majors Matter in Higher-Ed Decisions

A new report from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce states that “the high school economy is gone and it is not coming back” and that two-thirds of jobs now require workers to have at least some college education.

Furthermore, the program or major that a college student chooses makes a significant difference in that student’s financial future, according to “Five Rules of the College and Career Game,” based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s ongoing American Community Survey.

Dr. Anthony P. CarnevaleDr. Anthony P. Carnevale

The Georgetown Center came up with information and guidelines from its research to help prospective college students and their families select programs that will best fulfill their educational and financial goals.

“The variety of college programs today is a Tower of Babel,” said Dr. Anthony P. Carnevale, lead author of the report and director of the Georgetown Center. “We need to help students decipher their options in the first major investment in the journey from youth dependency to independent adulthood.”

According to the report, “a blizzard of options” exists for students because of the burgeoning number of postsecondary programs, which more than quintupled from 1985 to 2010 – from 410 to 2,260. Meanwhile, tuition and fees at public four-year colleges and universities have risen 19 times faster than average family incomes.

“We feel as though there just isn’t enough information out there for people who are considering going to college – for students and parents – about how much money they’re likely to make in the end,” Martin Van Der Werf, editor of the report, told Diverse.

College “has gotten so expensive that it’s very important that people understand before they go into debt what they’re likely to get at the other end,” he said.

He said the type of program or major a student selects is usually more important than the college itself, Van Der Werf added.

“A lot of our research is saying…‘Here’s what that education degree is going to pay, and it’s probably going to pay just about the same whether you [go] to an Ivy League school or to a regional state college.’”

Median earnings generally increase with each additional level of educational attainment, the report said. The median earnings of a high school graduate are $36,000, a college grad with a bachelor’s degree earns $62,000 and a person with a graduate degree makes $80

Bachelor’s degrees in certain majors result in higher earnings. For example, bachelor’s degrees in architecture and engineering lead to median annual earnings of $85,000, which is more than twice the median for workers with a high school diploma and no college, and $5,000 higher than the median for graduate-degree holders.

Those in other disciplines may earn considerably less. For example, education majors’ median annual earnings are $46,000, and that amount is almost 30 percent more than the median earnings of workers with a high school diploma.

The difference in annual median earnings between the highest and lowest-paying majors is $39,000.

“Before the 1980s, high school was enough to provide middle-class earnings for most Americans: two-thirds of jobs required workers with only a high school education or less,” the report stated. “Now, except for about 20 percent of males who can still make it in the blue-collar sector, the high school economy is gone and it is not coming back.”

“Five Rules” helps students determine what program or major is best for them. If a student’s passion is education, that student may need to plan on attending graduate school in order to earn a middle-class income. The report noted that education majors need a graduate degree in order to achieve the $62,000 median earnings of overall bachelor’s degree-holders. Arts, psychology and social work majors also need graduate degrees to reach that amount.

Another important finding is that associate’s degree holders in STEM subjects earn $60,000 annually. This is more than bachelor’s degree holders who majored in the humanities and liberal arts.

The five rules of the college and career game are, in brief:

1. More education is usually better.

2. Majors matter more.

3. Although majors are important, they do not control one’s destiny.

4. Less education can be worth more, as in the case of STEM associate degree-holders.

5. Most humanities and liberal arts majors never catch up with the highest-earning majors such as STEM, healthcare and business.

Van Der Werf said the Georgetown Center researchers offered students a look at various options.

“One thing we’re trying to do is to open people’s eyes to the many possibilities that are out there and give them a place of comparison.”

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