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May 16 2018

Study: What You Major in Is Financially More Significant than Where You Go to School

by Charlotte Hays

Christina Hoff Sommers once famously tweeted this:

Want to close wage gap? Step one: Change your major from feminist dance therapy to electrical engineering.

A new study by Georgetown University's Center for Education and the Workforce indicates that Hoff Sommers was onto something. The study documents the financial  implications of picking the major. It finds that there is a $39,000 difference between the highest and lowest paying majors.

Jillian Berman of Market Watch reports:

[T]he difference in median annual earnings of bachelor’s degree recipients with the highest paying majors and those with the lowest paying majors is $39,000. (That’s approximately the median down payment for a home.)

“Where you go doesn’t matter so much anymore, it matters what you take,” said Anthony Carnevale, the director of CEW and the co-author of the study.

The change is the result of economic forces that began in the 1980s and have resulted in a labor market with hundreds of different jobs with specific skill profiles, Carnevale said. While it’s necessary to get some education beyond high school to get a decent paying job in the bulk of those fields, there’s a much stronger correlation than in the past between those specific fields and the college education required for them, he said.

That relationship means that in certain fields an associate’s degree might be enough for a worker to earn a decent living, while in others they’ll need to get some kind of graduate degree. The median earnings of a worker with a graduate degree in education is roughly the same as of a worker with an associate’s degree in science, technology, engineering and math, the analysis found.

Despite those diverging fortunes, it’s still true that within fields more education means more money on average, Carnevale said. Students who aren’t sure what to study are safest going for at least a bachelor’s degree, he said.

I happen to believe that college is more than training for a lucrative job. There is also the importance of acquiring a liberal education (which is what the great universities once did). But I'm an English major. I would say that, wouldn't I?

Still the study finds that all is not lost if you pursue English or classics:

Those who are dead set on a less lucrative field shouldn’t lose all hope. Workers in the 75th percentile of earnings for liberal arts and humanities degrees earn more than those in the 25th percentile of architecture and engineering majors, the analysis found. Still, other research indicates that pursuing a low-paying degree is increasingly a luxury only students at relatively selective schools can afford.

While the study found that what you study is more important to earnings than where you study, there are advantages to a prestigious school. These schools tend to spend more on students and thus increase the odds of their graduating.

 

 

Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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