Low-return college degrees

Teaching makes Salary.com’s list of  8 College Degrees with the Worst Return on Investment.

A day-care center teacher averages $27,910 per year. If she earned a bachelor’s at a public university — and received no grants or scholarships — she’d get a 43 percent return on investment. The ROI is 13 percent for a pay-your-own-way private college degree.

Of course, K-12 teachers do better.  The median salary of a high school teacher is $54,473, according to Salary.com. That would generate an 85 percent return on investment for a public degree, 25 percent for a private degree.

Other low-return majors are sociology, psychology, communications, fine arts, religious studies, hospitality and nutrition. Generally, the “helping professions” pay badly.

8 degrees that will earn your money back are: math, information technology, human resources, econ, biology, engineering, marketing and English. English? Communications is a loser but English is a winner? (I majored in English and Creative Writing.)

Salary.com says English majors can end up as speech writers ($78,011 median pay) with a 122 percent public ROI. Communications manager ($88,498) earns a 139 percent ROI. Web content managers ($79,674) get to 125 percent. Nobody gets a positive return on investment for private college.

About Joanne


  1. Stacy in NJ says:

    There’s a glut of teachers. Supply vs. demand.

    Well, not entirely, my son’s Chemistry class has gone through 7 (count ‘um 7) teachers so far this year.

    The regular teacher was out on disability for the first semester and 3 long term subs were used. She returned for two weeks until she qualified for full retirement then retired. He’s had 3 subs since. The school can’t seem to hire a qualified Chem teacher. And this is a nice high performing high school. Nice of the retiring teacher to leave the school and the kids in the lurch, though. Unions suck.

  2. George Larson says:

    What did the union have to do with the teacher retiring?

    • @George,

      Without the union and Medicare to provide her with sufficient wages and benefits such that she could eventually retire, she might have been indentured to her job. You have to understand how inconvenient it can be for a parent that a teacher doesn’t suffer in penury until her dying day.

      • Stacy in NJ says:

        Riiight. Because there’s no sunlight between taking advantage of every aspect of a teacher’s contract to receive maximum benefit even if it disadvantages a couple hundred students and serfdom. Good grief.

        • Stacy in NJ says:

          Oh, and this teacher should have been compensated at a higher rate then the standard union contract provided because she specialized an area with a shortage of qualified candidates -Chemistry. But because of her union she was compensated on the same scale as the gym teacher. Another reason unions suck.

        • lightly seasoned says:

          No wonder they went through 7 subs. 200 students?

  3. The average teacher salary in our state is $70,000. As half of new teachers quit in five years, does the salary.com figure correct for the effect of a persistent presence of the salaries which don’t increase with time?

    • No amount of pay – and in most places it’s more like ~$30,000/year – is worth the suffering that K-12 teachers are put through. You’re everyone’s enemy, and you know it – the parents, students, administrators, and politicans all have you pegged as their scapegoat. You’ll do all of their work, and then some. And after putting in 60 hours of work a week while getting abused and insulted at every turn, if you don’t go to that pointless 8th grade basketball game on Saturday night, you’ll still get written up. Who would want to do that at all, much less for 5+ years?

  4. Since this survey must count the (maybe 1%) of English majors who find good nonacademic jobs related to their major as representative of English majors, I wouldn’t expect it to follow up and see how many teachers kept their jobs.