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Georgetown University Releases Two Reports on College Majors

Aline D. McNaull
Number 58 - April 30, 2012  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce recently released two reports addressing the career and earning prospects of a variety of college majors.  The first report, “Hard Times: College Majors, Unemployment and Earnings,” addresses the question: is college worth it?  The second report “What It’s Worth: The Economic Value of College Majors,” seeks to address the difference in potential earnings between college majors.

Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce ( is an independent, nonprofit research and policy institute that studies the link between individual goals, education and training curricula and career pathways.  The Hard Times report was written by Anthony Carnevale, Ban Cheah and Jeff Strohl and the What It’s Worth report was written by Anthony Carnevale, Jeff Strohl and Michelle Melton.

The Hard Times report delves into whether a college degree is worth it, as “we slowly dig out from under the wreckage left by the Great Recession.”  The major findings of the report include: “that the choice of undergraduate major substantially affects employment prospects and earnings;” “people who make technology are better off than people who use technology;” “majors that are linked to occupations have better employment prospects than majors focused on general skills, which the exception of some occupation-specific majors such as Agriculture, which were hurt during the recession;” and “pursuing a graduate degree may be the best option until the economy recovers though not all graduate degrees outperform all Bachelor’s degrees on employment.”

The Hard Times report states “a Bachelor’s degree is one of the best weapons a job seeker can wield in the fight for employment and earnings.”  The report cited information on unemployment rates finding that “unemployment for students with new Bachelor’s degrees is an unacceptable 8.9 percent, but it’s a catastrophic 22.9 percent for job seekers with a recent high school diploma – and an almost unthinkable 31.5 percent for recent high school dropouts.”

The Hard Times report found that “unemployment in majors related to computers and mathematics vary widely depending on the technical and scientific content of the major” and adds that “we can see the difference in unemployment between people who invent computer technology as opposed to people who use computer technology.  The unemployment rate for recent college graduates in Information Systems has spiked to 11.7 percent, while the rates for majors in Computer Science and Mathematics are 7.8 and 6.0 percent, respectively.” 

Regarding engineering majors, the Hard Times report concluded:

“Recent graduates in Engineering do relatively well (7.5 percent unemployment), except for Civil and Mechanical Engineers who are still suffering from the deep dive in manufacturing and construction activity.”

“Engineering majors lead both in earnings for recent and experienced college graduates followed by Computer and Mathematics majors, and Business majors.  Recent graduates in Healthcare majors start out with high earnings, but begin to lose ground to Science, Business and Engineering as college graduates gain experience and graduate degrees.”

The What It’s Worth report concluded:

The top 10 majors with the highest median earnings are: Petroleum Engineer ($120,000); Pharmacy/pharmaceutical Sciences and Administration ($105,000); Mathematics and Computer Sciences ($98,000); Aerospace Engineering ($87,000); Chemical Engineering ($86,000); Electrical Engineering ($85,000); Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering ($82,000); Mechanical Engineering, Metallurgical Engineering and Mining and Mineral Engineering (each with an media earnings of $80,000).”

“In today’s challenging jobs economy, there are some fields with virtually no unemployment: Geological and Geophysical Engineering; Military Technologies; Pharmacology; and School Student Counseling. While majors with the highest unemployment rates are in the fields of: Social Psychology (16 percent); Nuclear Engineering (11 percent) and Educational Administration and Supervision (11 percent).”

Aline D. McNaull
Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics