College’s economic value depends on the degree

College is worth it, but majors linked to occupations offer better job prospects than majors focused on general skills, concludes a new Georgetown report, Hard Times: Not All College Degrees Are Created Equal (pdf).

Another general rule: “People who make technology are better off than people who use technology.”

A bachelor’s degree is one of the best weapons a job seeker can wield in the fight for employment and earnings. And staying on campus to earn a graduate degree provides safe
shelter from the immediate economic storm, and will pay off with greater employability and earnings once the graduate enters the labor market. Unemployment for students with new
bachelor’s degrees is an unacceptable 8.9 percent, but it’s a catastrophic 22.9 percent for job seekers with a recent high school diploma — and an almost unthinkable 31.5 percent for recent high school dropouts.

Except for architecture graduates, who’ve been hit hard by the construction crash, unemployment rates are higher in non-technical majors such as the arts (11.1 percent), humanities and liberal arts (9.4 percent), social sciences (8.9 percent) and law and public policy (8.1 percent).

Unemployment is low for computer science (7.8 percent) and math (6 percent) graduates who can write software and invent new applications, higher for information systems graduates (11.7 percent)  “who use software to manipulate, mine, and disseminate information.”  However, the report predicts jobs for computer majors will “bounce back strongly” as the recovery proceeds.

Median earnings among recent college graduates vary from $55,000 among engineering majors to $30,000 in the arts, psychology and social work. While new graduates in computer engineering average $60,000, physiology graduates average only $24,000.

About Joanne


  1. Why is any of this news, not to mention newsworthy? The same banalities were tossed around during the recession of the 70’s when the fat that college graduates couldn’t get jobs made the headlines. Then came the big realization that it was harder to get a job with a philosophy or literature degree than, say, a degree in law, business, engineering, etc. Then came the flurry of people getting degrees in law and business. Then came the surplus of lawyers and the rise of lawsuits. You know the rest.

  2. And now increasing unemployment among lawyers due to market glut in a bad economy. Imagine that.

  3. Or depends on the person. I know some finance and engineering majors who earn great livings, but I also know some English and public policy graduates who work in computers and consulting. Often the degree is just a screening device.