Until student debt started to become a major burden on American university students, talking about whether some majors were more worth investment than others seemed to matter less. But thanks to abysmal post-graduation employment numbers and a recent hike in federal education loan rates, the discussion over the relative worth of degrees is heating up. A growing number of researchers are looking at data to find out which majors provide a good return on investment?–?and so far the answers appear entirely unsurprising.
Just as the public has long suspected, students who bring home degrees within the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and math — have better employment prospects and earn higher salaries compared to those who earn degrees in humanities and social science disciplines.
According to Timothy J. Gonzalez of the Associated Press, however, the problem is more complex of computer seems at first glance. As Di Saunders, the director of communications for Oregon State University, explains, it’s difficult to compare computer science majors and social work majors head to head because those who go into social work might be looking for rewards from their jobs which are more than just financial. Furthermore, driving people into programs with high earning potential might create shortages in professions that are just as vital for that country’s future economic health.
It’s correct that not all degrees are made equal, according to a study published by the Georgetown Public Policy Institute in May. The report analyzed unemployment rates and earnings among various college degrees.?The report found that architecture and information systems students faced unemployment rates as high as 12 or 14 percent, in addition to high rates for students majoring in film, photography and anthropology. Students within the arts also faced lower starting salaries – students who majored in fine arts, for example, had an average salary of $29,000 fresh out of college.?On the other hand, students majoring in nursing, chemistry and finance all faced really low unemployment rates. And for fields like engineering, computers and mathematics, unemployment rates were average but starting salaries were more generous, sometimes $55,000 for a recent graduate.
A study conducted by Oregon’s Employment Department drew similar conclusions. While employment rates for college students more or less followed national trends, starting salaries for graduates in nursing, computer science and engineering were much higher than for those who earned degrees within the arts, architecture and communications.
Still, to date, these considerations haven’t swayed a large number of students. In Oregon, the number of graduates in social sciences and humanities or fine arts was nearly 6 times greater than those in engineering and information technology.
Part of the reason for the gap could be the fact that STEM majors tend to be difficult, require more work and generally result in lower GPAs at graduation.
At the University of Oregon, the emphasis isn\’t a lot on one major over another, said interim provost Scott Coltrane. Instead, the university embraces a philosophy that a liberal arts education can prepare students for just about any number of potential jobs.
\”The tenants of a basic liberal education is to prepare people to assume jobs that people don\’t know exist yet,\” he said. \”Some of the most popular jobs, which have highest demand, are jobs that did not exist ten years ago. We must teach students to question and work together and solve problems, and that\’s what will ready them for the job market that evolves by itself.\”