College pays — but not much for some majors

Recent college graduates who majored in psychology, social work or the arts earn a median income of $31,000, according to From Hard Times to Better Times, a new report from Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce. The median salary of workers with only a high school diploma –including experienced workers — is $32,000.

New humanities and liberal arts graduates earn a median of $32,000. Education majors start at $33,000, on average.

On the flip side, new engineering graduates average $57,000 a year.

Of course, college graduates are likely to move up the salary scale as they gain experience, leaving most less-educated workers behind.

Unemployment rates are declining for college graduates — except for communications and journalism majors, the report finds. College graduates have maintained their earnings advantage over high school-only workers, who are earning less. However, “a full recovery in the employment of college graduates, especially at the Bachelor’s degree level, may be as far off as 2017 and a full recovery in earnings may take longer,” the report concludes.

Certificate holders out-earn 4-year grads

People who’ve earned long-term vocational certificates and associate degrees start at higher wages than four-year graduates, a Tennessee study shows. After five years, the bachelor’s degree holders have caught up with two-year graduates, but don’t quite earn as much as the certificate holders.

Major decisions: What graduates earn

College pays a lot more to the numerate than to the nice. Graduates in engineering, computer science and other quantitative fields will earn a lot more than people who major in early childhood education, family sciences (home economics), theology, fine arts, social work, and elementary education. Over a working lifetime, a chemical engineer can expect to earn more than $2 million. The average graduate with a four-year degree in early childhood education can expect $800,000.

They earned a degree and then …

Many college students don’t work very hard or learn very much, concluded Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa in Academically Adrift. For their new book, Aspiring Adults Adrift, they followed 1,000 graduates for two years after college. A little over a quarter of graduates were earning $40,000 or more and 53 percent were unemployed, employed part-time, or working full time for less than $30,000.

That’s scary.

Dollars for degrees: Engineering pays

North Carolina is making it easier for students to predict the dollar value of college degrees. A new state web site will provide median earnings and employment by major, degree and campus.

All the top-paying two- and four-year degrees are in engineering and technology. A four-year graduate in nuclear engineering can expect to earn nearly $90,000 in five years, while the median income for theater graduates is $10,400 after five years.

Closing the skills — and earnings — gap

Manufacturers are working with high schools and community colleges in hopes of closing the skills — and earnings — gap.

Which colleges raise graduates’ pay?

A new college-ranking system claims to show schools’ value in raising graduates’ earnings, reports Ed Week.

The California nonprofit Educate to Career and the data company Job Search Intelligence created the ETC College Ranking Index. It analyzes entering students’ SAT or ACT scores and socioeconomic background, their total college costs and their labor market outcomes. Elite colleges that recruit affluent, high-scoring students don’t rank high because their graduates would have done well in any case.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill tops the value list, followed by California State University-Los Angeles, the University of California-Merced and East Carolina University.

Some schools in the ETC’s top 10 have low graduation rates, but they make a difference for students who make it through.

Graduates’ earnings are a valid measure of college quality, argues Ben Miller on EdCentral.

Childhood’s ‘long shadow’

Only 4 percent of low-income Baltimore children had earned a college degree by age 28, concludes a Johns Hopkins study that followed 790 first graders for 22 years. Forty-five percent of higher-income children went on to earn a degree.

“A family’s resources and the doors they open cast a long shadow over children’s life trajectories,” Johns Hopkins sociologist Karl Alexander says The Long Shadow: Family Background, Disadvantaged Urban Youth and the Transition to Adulthood.

White men from low-income backgrounds were less likely to attend college, but more likely to find well-paying blue-collar jobs. At age 28, 45 percent were working in construction trades and industrial crafts, compared with 15 percent of black men from similar backgrounds.

At age 18, 89 percent of white dropouts were working compared with 40 percent of black drop-outs.

White women from low-income backgrounds were much more likely than black women to be in stable family unions with a working spouse or partner.

At age 28, 49 percent of black men and 41 percent of white men from low-income backgrounds had a criminal conviction. But whites were much more likely to be working because of their stronger social networks, the study found.

Colleges rattled by Obama’s rating plans

President Obama’s college rating proposal has “rattled” college presidents, who fear it will be simplistic and misleading. It didn’t help when a top education official said it would be “like rating a blender.”

Obama wants Congress to link student loans and grants to college ratings, which will be based on graduation rates, student debt, graduates’ earnings and other factors. Highly selective universities are likely to do very well, but most students can go to college only if they can afford a not-very-selective or open-admissions college or university.

Grads are too optimistic about jobs

The class of 2014 is overly optimistic about their job prospects. Only 18 percent of 2014 graduates expect to earn $25,000 or less, but more than 41 percent of 2012 and 2013 graduates are earning salaries in that range