Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

A penny saved may be what some majors earn

A new report by Georgetown University studied the earnings power of 171 majors earned by college graduates.

As graduation season for area colleges winds down, Georgetown University has issued a report on what those different majors are worth in terms of potential earnings.

The researchers called their 182-page report, "What It's Worth," and it attaches some dollar signs to those new diplomas that may come as a shock to some.

I think everyone intuitively knows that engineers make more money right out of the gate. The Georgetown study shows that eight of the 10 majors had the highest median earnings with petroleum engineers at the top of the list with $120,000 per year. The only major with a median more than $100,000 was an agglomeration called pharmacy pharmaceutical sciences and administration ($105,000) although mathematics and computer science came close ($98,000).

The major with the lowest median earnings? Counseling psychology at $29,000 followed by early childhood education ($36,000).

Researchers at Georgetown's Center on Education and the Workforce used data from the Census Bureau's 2009 American Community Survey that for the first time asked respondents for their undergraduate major. While the overall medians are interesting, the demographic data reveals some stark income inequality by gender and race.

For example, a chemical engineering major provides one of the highest median earnings for both men and women. But the median for men is $92,000 compared with $72,000 for women.

An electrical engineering major generates the highest median earnings for African Americans at $68,000 per year -- less than the $90,000 median for whites and $80,000 for Asians, more than the $60,000 for Hispanics.

I doubt all this information would prompt colleges to adopt a new pricing model for credits based on a major's ultimate income potential. But it should help students picking (or switching) majors understand how those who've gone before them have fared in the big world off-campus.

I know, I know. Money isn't everything, and career paths are often winding.

Still, this report ought to prompt some chatter around the barbecue. I did not know that those who'd majored in nuclear engineering had one of the highest unemployment rates at 11 percent, while school student counseling majors had a 100 percent employment rate.

I only hope those student counselors are telling liberal arts majors they're more likely to wind up in management and sales occupations rather than in ivory towers.

Read the report on the Georgetown website here.