‘College premium’ is inflated

The “college premium” has been exaggerated by high-profile studies, write Andrew G. Biggs and Abigail Haddad in The Atlantic. So has the payoff for majoring in a STEM field.

Smarter people are more likely to earn a college degree and to major in engineering, science and math, they write.

Only 58 percent of new college students who began in 2004 had graduated six years later, according to federal data. “Dropout rates are even higher at less selective colleges, whose students are presumably most on the margin between attending college following high school and entering the workforce.”

Calculating returns to education only for those who attend college and graduate is like measuring stock returns for Google while ignoring those for General Motors.

High school students who go on to college are quite different from those go directly to the workforce, they write.

(The collegebound) took a more rigorous high school curriculum, scored better on tests of reading and math, came from higher-income families, were in better physical and mental health, and were less likely to have been arrested. These are all correlated with higher earnings regardless of whether a person attends college . . .

Controlling for “both the risk of not graduating from college and differing personal characteristics” cuts the “earnings boost attributable to college attendance” in half, write Biggs and Haddad.

Graduates in technical fields earn significantly more than graduates in “softer” majors, studies have shown. “High school graduates aiming for high-earning majors such as engineering enter college with higher average SAT scores, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, while those aiming for lower-paying majors have lower average SAT scores,” write Biggs and Haddad. “High-paying jobs also entail longer work hours.”

Smart and not-so-smart college majors

Statistic Brain’s IQ Estimates by College Major put education majors — including elementary, early childhood and special education — at the bottom. Student counseling also comes low on the list.

Physics and astronomy, philosophy and math top the list.

IQ is estimated by looking at SAT scores. So, for example, the average elementary education major has SATs of 968 and an estimated IQ of 108. The average physicist hits 1269 and 133. And I’m a genius. Which I’m not.

Emotional intelligence may be more valuable than “academic intelligence” in some fields, points out The Richest.

Physicists — and painters — score well on Pantheon‘s list of “cultural production.” Politicians are even more influential.

Every Major’s Terrible

Every Major’s Terrible:

Where the money is — and isn’t

NPR charts The Most (And Least) Lucrative College Majors.

Erin Ford graduated from the University of Texas two years ago with a bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering. Recruiters came to campus to woo her. She got a paid summer internship, which turned into a full-time job after she graduated. Now, at age 24, she makes $110,000 a year.

Michael Gardner just graduated from City College in New York with a degree in psychology. He applied for more than 100 jobs, had trouble getting interviews and worked at Home Depot to make ends meet. “Every single day while I was at work, I’m thinking, ‘I just hope I really don’t get stuck.’ ” Gardner just got a job earning $36,000 a year as a case worker — and he feels lucky to have it.

There are no surprises in the high-earnings chart. On the low side, a health/medical prep degree doesn’t pay well because it requires graduate work.

Income by major

Majors that pay: STEM — and government

Payscale’s Majors That Pay You Back starts with engineering majors: Petroleum engineers start at $98,000 and earn a median mid-career salary of $163,000.  Then comes other STEM majors such as applied math, computer science, statistics and physics.

Government is the top-earning non-STEM major, as measured by mid-career pay, at the 14th spot. Government majors start at $42,000 and hit $95,600 by mid-career, according to Payscale.

Economics is 15th and international relations is 16th. Then it’s back to STEM majors till urban planning pops up at #40.

Education is #110 with a median starting salary of $37,200 and mid-career median of $55,000.

Some of the lowest-paying majors — special education, Biblical studies, social work and child and family studies — make the list of Majors That Change the World.

Most new jobs don’t require a college degree, notes Cost of College. However, most of the fastest growing jobs — retail sales, home health aide, personal care aide, clerical worker — pay poorly.

10 low-earning college majors

Anthropology leads Kiplinger’s Worst College Majors for Your Career. It combines low pay and high unemployment. Anthro majors are twice as likely as the average college graduate to end up working in retail in a job that doesn’t require a college education.

Unemployment rate: 6.9%
Recent grad employment rate: 10.5%
Median salary: $40,000
Median salary for recent grads: $28,000
Projected job growth for this field, 2010-2020: 21%
Likelihood of working retail: 2.1 times average

Many anthropology graduates “are studying a culture they didn’t expect: the intergenerational American household, as seen from their parents’ couch.”  Nearly a third of recent grads are in low-paying office or sales jobs. Recent graduates average $28,000 per year, less than the median pay for someone with only a high school diploma. Students interested in foreign cultures would do better to major in international relations, Kiplinger suggests.

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Fine arts, film/photography, studio arts, graphic design and drama/theater also are low-earnings, high-retail majors.  Also on the list: philosophy and religious studies, sociology, liberal arts and my major, English.

I’d guess that arts and theater majors understand they’re going to struggle to make a living. Do sociology majors know their odds?

Ann Althouse quotes from Kurt Vonnegut’s A Man Without a Country:

If you want to really hurt your parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.

I’m not sure writing bad poetry constitutes practicing art or enlarges the soul.

College majors that lead to well-paid careers

Which college majors lead to career success? A Wall Street Journal chart, based on 2010 Census data, looks at unemployment rates and pay for various majors. Nursing  (2.2 percent unemployment, $60,000 median salary) and finance (4.5 percent unemployment, $65,000 median pay), tend to pay off for graduates, the Journal notes.

Education graduates have low unemployment rates and average $40,000 (elementary) to $47,000 (science and computer specialists) in median pay. Education psychologists do much worse and administrators do much better.

The arts category includes everything from visual and performing arts to liberal arts,  geology and earth science (huh?) and cosmetology and culinary arts (lumped together), which rarely requires more than a certificate or associate degree. Still, those cosmetologists and cooks (unemployment is 7.3 percent, median pay is $41,000) do about as well as drama and theater arts majors.

Major matters

Popular majors aren’t the best paying, according to this infographic from Schools.com.
Infographic: Degree value : Degrees by salary