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What's Your College Major Worth?

samzenpus posted more than 3 years ago | from the getting-your-money's-worth dept.

Education 433

Hugh Pickens writes "The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that with tuition rising and a weak job market everyone seems to be debating the value of a college degree. Anthony P. Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, says talking about the bachelor's degree in general doesn't make a whole lot of sense, because its financial payoff is heavily affected by what that degree is in and which college it is from. For the first time, researchers analyzed earnings based on 171 college majors and the differences are striking: For workers whose highest degree is a bachelor's, median incomes ranged from $29,000 for counseling-psychology majors to $120,000 for petroleum-engineering majors but the data also revealed earnings differences within groups of similar majors. Within the category of business majors, for instance, business-economics majors had the highest median pay, $75,000 while business-hospitality management earned $50,000. The study concludes that while there is a lot of variation in earnings over a lifetime, all undergraduate majors are worth it, even taking into account the cost of college and lost earnings with the lifetime advantage ranging from $1,090,000 for Engineering majors to $241,000 for Education majors. 'The bottom line is that getting a degree matters, but what you take matters more,' (PDF) concludes Carnevale." Last week we learned that dropping out of college could earn you $100,000 in start-up money for your business.

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In other news (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36288202)

Water is wet and the sun is hot!

Finally some sanity (5, Insightful)

Overunderrated (1518503) | more than 3 years ago | (#36288204)

As a grad student in engineering that has seen nearly all his friends at the BS, MS, and PhD levels all able to find good paying, stable jobs, I had grown pretty tired of the stream of /. articles from Ivy League tenured professors of religion ranting about how our education system is all wrong.

Re:Finally some sanity (5, Interesting)

Anrego (830717) | more than 3 years ago | (#36288424)

My thoughts exactly!

Yes a degree in liberal arts or religion isn't gonna carry you far... and yes there are extreme cases of CS majors flipping burgers and multi-mullionaire highschool dropouts, but in general I still think getting a degree results in a better job and more money later on in life. Good to see an article not trying to "rock the establishment"!

It maybe one of those bad corrolation dealies (people who can suck it up through a degree would have done better either way) .. but I suspect the paper still helps.

Re:Finally some sanity (5, Funny)

Cryacin (657549) | more than 3 years ago | (#36288526)

I think a piece of graffiti found in the mens lavatory at my university put it best.

Arts degree, please take one. (Arrow pointing to toilet paper.)

Re:Finally some sanity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36288662)

Hey! We must have gone to the same university!

Re:Finally some sanity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36288718)

And don't take more than one arts degree... Sheryl Crowe will be waiting outside to yell at you.

Re:Finally some sanity (2, Interesting)

mini me (132455) | more than 3 years ago | (#36288710)

Wealthier than average people are driven to succeed. They're driven to finish college and they are driven to find a good job. There is certainly correlation between education and income, but I see no reason to believe the formal education itself has any bearing on ones chances at financial success. It seems that the attributes one has drives them to finish college, then make lots of money. However, if you removed the option of college, they would still be driven to make lots of money.

Re:Finally some sanity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36289046)


but in general I still think getting a degree results in a better job and more money later on in life.

The point is though that there isn't a "general case". You readily admit that a liberal arts degree isn't worth a hell of a lot, but cast this aside when you aggregate everyone together with degrees in one big lump. It seems to me that lumping all college degrees together into a big lump is a bad way to advise people on what to do. The subtype analysis among different degrees, and comparing that to subtypes of non college degrees is what should inform people, not the aggregate of "college degree" vs "non college degree".

Re:Finally some sanity (1)

anyGould (1295481) | more than 3 years ago | (#36289102)

It maybe one of those bad corrolation dealies (people who can suck it up through a degree would have done better either way) .. but I suspect the paper still helps.

And when you boil it down, that's what it ends up being:

  • People with degrees (of any sort) are likely to make more money over their lifetime than people without degrees.
  • Engineers are likely to make more than psychologists, teachers, and authors.

Yes, there are rich authors and poor engineers, but that's statistics for you.

Re:Finally some sanity (0, Troll)

RogueWarrior65 (678876) | more than 3 years ago | (#36289274)

I know people who have these relatively low-paying liberal arts jobs who have the balls to say that because THEY will never see $250,000 a year salary in their lifetime, it's okay to heavily tax those that do. Of course, they are assuming that someone who makes that much is a greedy Wall Street trader and not the owner of a Quizno's (yes, a Quizno's in a good location can take in that much in a year).

Re:Finally some sanity (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36288472)

I tried being an engineer, but couldn't get accepted - didn't have calculus in High School. I tried to catch up but to no avail; I just couldn't handle the course load of an engineering student (16-22 credit hours per semester required) and some stuff wouldn't sink in during the 16 week semester. Although, when I dropped out, I had a talk with my Mechanics prof about the mid-term (Got a 'D') - it was gyroscopes. The problem was put a gyro in a car. I said, I calculated it for the vector to go up. He said the goal was to have the vector pointing forward. I then said that you couldn't go in reverse if you did that. He responded while staring into thin air, "That's right. That's right"

"Anyway, I was just curious and I'm out of the program. I can't keep up and I can't learn what I need to learn in 16 weeks."

"Yeah, but when you do learn it, you sure got a handle on it!"

I went to the business program and tried getting a Wall Street job before I fell into programming. The only thing offered were sales jobs that basically was to to rip people off. But that's another story.

so my point:

...ranting about how our education system is all wrong

I don't know if it's "all wrong" but only those folks who can do well in that type of learning environment do well - and I don't think they master the material because it's not possible in the 16 week-drink-from-a-fire-hose teaching methods..

Re:Finally some sanity (2)

Xaositecte (897197) | more than 3 years ago | (#36288618)

It's a really good idea to spread out the Engineering curriculum over 5-6 years. I only got an AA my first time through college before realizing I had no idea what I wanted to do in life, and joined the Air Force. Four years of grunt work later taught me the value of getting a worthwhile degree, and since all my general education requirements were out of the way (did all that English and Social Science crap the first time) - I was able to focus entirely on working my way up through the math and science classes.

There were a LOT of smart kids I met along the way who could have made it through a 5-6 year program and been great Engineers, they just burnt out on the heavy courseload and decided it wasn't worth the headache when people majoring in business were binge drinking every night and acing their classes just by showing up.

Re:Finally some sanity (1)

gandhi_2 (1108023) | more than 3 years ago | (#36289220)

As a former Light Infantryman, I have a hard time with this:

"Air Force"
"grunt work"

Unless you were a TAC-P or PJ...

Re:Finally some sanity (1)

stuff and such (980278) | more than 3 years ago | (#36288630)

16 weeks. Aren't you lucky. Try 10 weeks from a place that's on quarters. (undergrad ME on quarters)

Re:Finally some sanity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36288926)

you at Drexel?

Did you love the 300+ student lectures, teachers who hide from you and angry, sleep-deprived TAs?

Re:Finally some sanity (1)

onkelonkel (560274) | more than 3 years ago | (#36288838)

Engineering schools are known for insane workloads. Third year EE was almost 40 hours of classes and labs plus at least 1 - 1.5 hours assignments and problem sets per hour of class. It was totally common for people to add an extra year to an undergrad engineering program just to spread out the workload.

Re:Finally some sanity (2)

anyGould (1295481) | more than 3 years ago | (#36289112)

The joke at my university was "Engineering - the worst four or best seven years of your life."

I had a floormate who did engineering, and the school has no shame about ruthlessly beating the students down - extra courseloads, little to no choice in courses (or even scheduling), and they just keep waving that promise of a big paycheck at the far end.

Re:Finally some sanity (2)

HornWumpus (783565) | more than 3 years ago | (#36289244)

Medical and law schools are a bitch to get into.

Engineering school is easy to get into. Your odds of making it to sophomore year are much less then 50%. IIRC enrollment in first semester physics went from standing room only to a less then half full lecture hall in about a month.

I did two engineering BSs in 9 semesters (lots of overlap). It's not that bad.

Anybody who is surprised that business majors don't learn shit wasn't paying any attention to how they live while students.

Re:Finally some sanity (1)

aaarrrgggh (9205) | more than 3 years ago | (#36288898)

If you are on the normal track, most of the core classes aren't really develop a mastery in 16 weeks, it is reinforcement of concepts between classes, semesters, and even high school. Not doing calculus in high school would put anybody at a serious disadvantage. I would recommend someone take a year and do the first two semesters of calc and physics, and maybe get non-core classes out of the way at a junior college. Then go to university and re-take the second level classes. You then have two full years to get the fundamentals under control...

I'm an electrical engineer, and one of my worst classes was EE-101. Many of the subjects I only now understand with confidence, 15 years later. They weren't really important to me until recently.

Re:Finally some sanity (4, Informative)

mini me (132455) | more than 3 years ago | (#36288612)

There is nothing wrong with going to school, but your friends would have good paying stable jobs with or without their education. The criticism of the education system is that they are selling a dream that doesn't exist. You cannot buy your way into a good job. There are still a million others reasons why you should go to college, but if your only concern is future profitability, you are wasting your time.

Re:Finally some sanity (4, Insightful)

lgw (121541) | more than 3 years ago | (#36288738)

Exactly. I hate to be the "correlation is not causation" guy, but the combination of being smart and having the "engineering mindset" will take you far in life, whether or not you pick up a degree along the way.

I've heard the same story from engineers in several fields: they don't expect graduates with engineering degrees to have learned much that will be useful on the job (and some don't even care if your degree is in the same field, as long as it's some kind of engineering degree), they simply value an engineering degree as proof that you have that "engineering mindset".

Personally, I think that getting a breadth of perspective and exposure to many cultures, and many historical sounded-great-at-the-time-but-failed-horribly ideas is a very worthwhile thing, but American universities seem to be falling down even there, instead trying to indoctrinate students with the One True Culture ("diversity" is a great place to visit, but you'd better actually believe the Right Things yourself).

Re:Finally some sanity (2)

Overunderrated (1518503) | more than 3 years ago | (#36288756)

your friends would have good paying stable jobs with or without their education.

TFA, and non-sensationalist common sense, says the exact opposite. I assure you that these friends in their mid-20s would not, could not, and should not be in positions of technical engineering applications in industries where failures can be fatal without a college education.
 

You cannot buy your way into a good job.

Right. You don't buy degrees (in engineering); it's an investment in your future. If it were as easy as "buying your way in," the rate of attrition in engineering departments across the country wouldn't be so high.
 

if your only concern is future profitability, you are wasting your time.

Again, TFA and common sense says exactly the opposite. We're not in it strictly for the money, but to suggest it would be just as likely for any of us to have a 6-figure median career pay without a college degree is simply silly.

Re:Finally some sanity (2)

mini me (132455) | more than 3 years ago | (#36289024)

TFA and common sense say that those who are smart and highly motivated are more likely to be financially successful, and will be more likely to seek challenge in higher education. There is no evidence that the education itself leads to financial success. Those same people will have the same chance of success no matter what life throws at them.

Someone whose only concern is money won't care about engineering, but there are tons of well paying and stable engineering jobs that do not require formal education. There are many high profile companies that will state they do not hire applicants based on education. I will grant that specific subsets of engineering jobs do require one to be a professional engineer, but in the absence of those credentials, your friends would find the other high paying and stable jobs.

As I said, there are millions of reasons to go to school. If you are there for the right reasons, you're not even going to care if you end up working at McDonalds in the end. You are pursuing your passions and that is what matters.

Re:Finally some sanity (1)

Overunderrated (1518503) | more than 3 years ago | (#36289188)

If you are there for the right reasons, you're not even going to care if you end up working at McDonalds in the end. You are pursuing your passions and that is what matters.

Sigh. I sure hate that sensationalist line.

It turns out that if your passion isn't being a McDonalds fry cook, then you're going to care if you end up working at McDonalds. Working 40+ hours a week at a mind-numbing, low-skilled job basically incapable of supporting a family or any kind of comfortable life just so you can put time into your "passion" for a few hours on weekends isn't exactly "pursuing your passion."

Re:Finally some sanity (1)

mbkennel (97636) | more than 3 years ago | (#36289250)

"Someone whose only concern is money won't care about engineering, but there are tons of well paying and stable engineering jobs that do not require formal education."

In 1810, maybe. In 2011 in a developed country, I've never heard of a single one.

Re:Finally some sanity (1)

gottspeed (2060872) | more than 3 years ago | (#36288782)

Basically yes. It depends where you live too, In Alberta I took a four year apprenticeship and make 100,000 a year. I have to work 10 hours a day for it, but I take two months off every year. I make the same as my mom, who has a b.speech, but she only works three days a week for it.

Re:Finally some sanity (1)

jedidiah (1196) | more than 3 years ago | (#36288860)

> There is nothing wrong with going to school, but your friends would have good paying stable jobs with or without their education.

Yes. At Wal-mart.

For most people, education does matter. It helps give them a clue and a credential that opens doors. Varying degrees of that education may be less relevant. However, it's important overall. It also helps to not have a PhD in philosophy.

Re:Finally some sanity (1)

mini me (132455) | more than 3 years ago | (#36289110)

For most people, education does matter.

My mistake. I should have stated formal education. Education is important and successful people are always educating themselves, every single day of their lives. If you are not a successful person already, college isn't going to help you.

Re:Finally some sanity (2)

Stellian (673475) | more than 3 years ago | (#36288780)

As a grad student in engineering that has seen nearly all his friends at the BS, MS, and PhD levels all able to find good paying, stable jobs

Let me guess, all your friends have a PhD thesis in the exact domain their employer is active ? It surely couldn't be cherry-picking by the employers in a high unemployment situation where workers desperately try to signal [wikipedia.org] their higher commitment to the profession and ability to follow instructions, with only marginal improvement in their skills from said degrees ? The later would surely explain why the exact same curricula gets you widely different salary outcomes depending on how expensive the school was.

Re:Finally some sanity (1)

Overunderrated (1518503) | more than 3 years ago | (#36289034)

Let me guess, all your friends have a PhD thesis in the exact domain their employer is active ?

Let me stop you there. I explicitly said at all of BS, MS, and PhD levels, not just PhD. "Engineering" degrees are by their nature quite widely applicable.

It surely couldn't be cherry-picking by the employers in a high unemployment situation where workers desperately try to signal [wikipedia.org] their higher commitment to the profession and ability to follow instructions,

As wrong as the rest is, I'm a bit baffled why you think "signaling higher commitment" is some kind of silly thing. If I were an employer in a particular discipline, I think I'd prefer a candidate with greater interest in the discipline, wouldn't you?

with only marginal improvement in their skills from said degrees ?

Now this is really wrong, possibly trollish, and likely intended to be insulting. Maybe one could say this about an MBA, but the people completing MS and PhD degrees in engineering are almost across-the-board vastly more capable than their BS counterparts. And it's not strictly a matter of them already being more capable/dedicated in order to be accepted to very selective graduate programs, but the vast amount of learning that occurs in the process of doing independent study and research.

And the ones without job!!! (3, Insightful)

stanlyb (1839382) | more than 3 years ago | (#36288218)

What about the ones that did not find the job in their field, and are deep in .... with a debt, low paid job, insecurity, wasted time, etc.....How are they measured in this statistic?

Re:And the ones without job!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36288346)

Those are called Humanities majors :). You pretty much know that going in.

Re:And the ones without job!!! (2)

luke923 (778953) | more than 3 years ago | (#36288714)

From http://stories-etc.com/engineers.htm [stories-etc.com] :

The graduate with a science degree asks, "Why does it work?"
The graduate with an engineering degree asks, "How does it work?"
The graduate with accounting degree asks, "How much will it cost?"
The graduate with an arts degree asks, "Do you want fries with that?"

Re:And the ones without job!!! (4, Insightful)

Anrego (830717) | more than 3 years ago | (#36288460)

They didn't do enough research / made a bad choice?

Ok, that's really not fair. Job markets change dramatically over short periods of time, but I still see a _lot_ of people getting degrees in things with absolutely no plan for how to turn it into a job when they graduate.

I almost think this should be a requirement for any student loan... write an essay detailing how, in the current job market, this degree will result in a decent job. Look at local job ads, maybe even call a few up and see what kind of education they are expecting people to have and such. Are you willing to move? If so, where? What's the job market like over there?

Not saying people shouldn't persue something they are pationate about, but getting your degree in music therapy may not be the best choice.

Re:And the ones without job!!! (1)

danlock4 (1026420) | more than 3 years ago | (#36288828)

[...]I still see a _lot_ of people getting degrees in things with absolutely no plan for how to turn it into a job when they graduate.

aha... thinking, "This is a fun major to pursue, but I don't know what I'll do with it. I have an idea or two in the back of my head and I think I might have what it takes to start a huge sensation. Maybe, just maybe, x or y will occur and life will be grand! I'll figure out the details later..." That's one reason some people find gambling so addictive.

Re:And the ones without job!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36289228)

Thank goodness we can have such a fine report from such an unbiassed group of people who have absolutly nothing to gain from pushing government financed college enrollment. I am just overwhelmed by the startlingly high ethical standards of the people in our educational system. And such fine, well thought out study, and unbiased research.

Re:And the ones without job!!! (1)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 3 years ago | (#36289230)

Of course non full-time workers, teachers and seasonal workers aren't counted.

The data come from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2009 American Community Survey and consider full-time, full-year workers ages 25 to 64 whose highest degree is a bachelor’s.

Re:And the ones without job!!! (1)

NotSoHeavyD3 (1400425) | more than 3 years ago | (#36289242)

On top of that did they do any sort of research on those of us that ended becoming literally crazy because of college. You'd be surprised even if you have the right degree(Computer Science) at the right time (mid 90's) how hard it is to get a job when you're an absolutely mess psychologically. (Oh, and not getting a job makes a depression worse but hey, I'm bitter.)

Well that's convenient. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36288224)

We're pretty lucky that you can exhaustively define the value of a degree by how many dollars you can get with it. Aristotle wept.

Re:Well that's convenient. (5, Insightful)

Penguinisto (415985) | more than 3 years ago | (#36288414)

FWIW, you can get a minor in what you love, and a major in what will earn. No one is forcing you to gear your entire curriculum to the Benjamins.

I did that eons ago, with a major in EE, but a minor in history. I've long since translated the engineering skills to the IT world, but the history I still have and treasure. It happens that I love the engineering side of things, so it fit me in either case (yes, I still have a bench at home, though time doesn't permit me much for playing at it).

If the field you truly love doesn't make any money, so what? Be happy with the less luxurious lifestyle, but living a life that matches your passions. FFS, if you love doing archaeology, even though the life would be pretty poverty-stricken, then by all means *do it*.

The guy who dies with a smile on his face is the one who wins, not the one whose bank account is the biggest.

This. (3, Interesting)

SanityInAnarchy (655584) | more than 3 years ago | (#36288908)

Frankly, it's taking a fair amount of discipline not to get four or five degrees, simply because I haven't run out of fields which absolutely fascinate me. Along the way, I'm finding very few classes I don't actually enjoy, and it's certainly more fun than real work.

If I was just in it for the money, I'd be a mainframe expert -- it's easy, but there are few enough of them (because no one wants to do it) that it's also very well paid. But then I would hate my life. As it is, I'm likely to end up in some sort of software development, but that's not going to stop me from studying the more interesting bits of biology and cosmology, because the universe is awesome.

Re:Well that's convenient. (1)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 3 years ago | (#36289104)

what about the guy who dies in debt, which he could never pay out, because he went to a university based out of fear, that is instilled into anybody today, that without a degree, he won't find any job, never mind a job in a field of their liking?

My point is that it is totally unnecessary to go to a university for most people, they are pressured into it, that's why they take courses that are pointless and useless - they never should have been in the university in the first place!

They are there, because of government printing and handing out money to them via students loans, but in reality those are not student loans, those are wealth transfer to those colleges and students are used as collateral in this war on common sense and value of education and fiat currency and economy in general.

The value of the diploma is diminished also because the quality is suffering from this artificial demand, which give anybody a loan, and then the universities grade on a curve, because you know what? Majority of the people there need to FAIL, goddamn it, they are not there because they like any of it, they are there to conform to this stupid requirement that society now puts in front of them.

And another thing: now that the unemployment is so high, it's likely somewhere in 25-35% in reality, all those students are staying in school longer, taking on more loans, getting more of this so called 'education', so that they only don't have to face the terrible job market. Guess what: it's not going to get any better.

Anybody who doesn't have real aptitude and passion for something, that really requires to go through the years of college, should instead keep their sanity, stay away from the debt and go get a job offering their services at like 10% of the asking price. In 4 year they'll have no debt, they'll be working, getting real experience, maybe having an average salary and some savings (especially if they live at their parents'), and the new college graduates will be coming into the terrible job market - without skills, with huge debt, competing with everybody across the world for those same jobs.

Also while these kids are at college, they take the money and they blow quite a lot of it on shit, they shouldn't, just because they have the cash, while what they really could do is take the loans, buy some gold, buy some dividend paying stocks from China, buy renminbi and go get a job somewhere or maybe study on their own, while making interest and beating inflation.

But you know what is going to happen, right? QE2 will be replaced with SE3, then with XE4 and then at some point the students also will be bailed out by the government, so you can even not only beat the inflation, but also even beat having to give the money back, even whatever worthless money it will be at the time.

Before you plunge yourself into tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of debt in this economic environment, you may want to step back and think it over and make the best decision of your life and NOT go to college.

As a poli sci major (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36288232)

Now working as a programmer, I can say it was obviously worth it.

Re:As a poli sci major (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36288406)

Same here.

Grain of salt (4, Insightful)

onkelonkel (560274) | more than 3 years ago | (#36288288)

I'm just paraphrasing some of the comments on TFA here. Some of the fields need a Masters or PHD to enter the profession. Not surprising that a bachelors degree in Psychology gets you diddly squat, if you need a Phd to get licensed.

Re:Grain of salt (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#36288428)

I think typically if you get a Bachelors in psychology you'd either go for a Masters related to counseling or go onto a PhD.

A large part of the problem is that we let HR jack asses handle the hiring decisions rather than people who contribute something to the welfare of the company. Beyond just the degree, the institution also matters. I personally wouldn't hire anybody with a degree from most of those private for profit schools, just on principle. Even without going the ivy league route, some public schools have a definite reputation for excellence in terms of turning out graduates that are educated beyond their degree level.

Re:Grain of salt (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36288892)

The thing is talking to people and deciding if they should work for you is hard.

Many middle managers are promoted out of their league (Dilbert principle). So they do not know how to really manage people. Many companies just 'expect' you to know how to manage things. So all you get are outliers those who can do it naturally, or those promoted out of what they are good at.

I described this to my dad he shook his head and said 'what do you mean companies do not teach you how to be a manager anymore?' This was a crazy concept to him. Companies used to make it their responsibility to make sure they had good managers. These days not so much. My father who worked for one of these companies spent *MANY* months learning how to manage people as well as training on what he did on the job.

Why am I ranting on about bad management practices? It cuts directly to HR issues. Managers do not take control of who they work with and let others make the decisions for them. Instead of having to you know 'manage' they let others work for them. It is a subtle difference that is lost on many. So you have managers who do not bother to do it and 'just let HR take care of it'. HR can HELP you pick a good candidate. But if you just let HR do the work you end up with someone who fills in some checklist.

I have a BA in detective defecalization (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 3 years ago | (#36288294)

talking about the bachelor's degree in general doesn't make a whole lot of sense, because its financial payoff is heavily affected by what that degree is in and which college it is from.

No shit, Sherlock.

not much (0)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 3 years ago | (#36288312)

Unfortunately for huge number of students, they end up with a worthless degree and a huge debt, and the reason for this, is that the government provides the loans, the universities/colleges jack up the prices simply because they know that the money will be transfered to them from the government and students are used as collateral.

The reason why many people major in things that are worthless and not in say engineering that is useful in oil production is because most people do not really need to go to college in the first place, they don't have the aptitude for it, but they are pressured into it by the system, which tells them now that without that degree, they won't be able to find ANY job, never mind job in some profession, because they are told that everybody has a degree, so not having a degree is like not having your 10 or 11 or 12 grade (or whatever the highest grade in high school for different Western nations).

Now, in reality this is nonsense, most of the people who major in sociology or something like that, would be much better off without a degree, going to a trade school or even just offering their services at a huge discount to a potential employer, say at 10-15% of what the normal starting rate is, but then after 4 years those people wouldn't have thousands of dollars of debt, would have 4 years of experience and would have a job.

The problem is that many are told that without a college degree you'd make like a million dollars less over life time than with a degree, but consider what it would take you to pay out say a 100-200K mortgage over decades with interest and you'll quickly realize that it's nonsense, it's better to start with a clean slate than to be in deb at the tender age of 22 or so. Also understand that those who'd make more money, they are people who would have gone to college anyway, because they have the ability - aptitude. People are not equal, don't fool yourself.

Get a trade profession, offer your services at a discount, get a job, start your own business, do NOT go to college unless you want to be a doctor or an engineer or a professor for sure.

Re:not much (4, Insightful)

Anrego (830717) | more than 3 years ago | (#36288544)

I kinda said this in another post, but I think it should be a requirement of a student loan to research and detail how you plan to turn your degree into an actual job. As you said, a lot of people getting degrees are doing so because they've been told degree = better job. This is true where degree = computer science or engineering. This is generally not true where degree = music therapy.

Not saying oddball degrees can't result in a job.. and if you are _really_ pationate about something like that, then I think people should go for it... just do some research and figure out how you are going to make a living with it _before_ getting the loan.

I would also note that the ability to live very frugally for a few years after graduating and working a McJob throughout school/summers does a lot for avoiding the lifelong crippling debt thing.

Re:not much (4, Funny)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 3 years ago | (#36288920)

well, I believe some sociology major with mod points just went over the comments here, thus you can see the results....

Higher Education is in a Massive Bubble (5, Insightful)

geoffrobinson (109879) | more than 3 years ago | (#36288352)

Everyone knows that higher education is in a bubble. This type of article just show that everyone now recognizes it.

The causes are clear. The government subsidizes loans, making it easy for students to take on more debt and for colleges to jack up tuition. Companies just use a degree as a proxy for basic competency. The list can go on.

However, the real question is how will the bubble burst. What will happen? I have no idea. But it can't go on. You can't have 18 year olds wrecking their entire financial future for a degree.

Re:Higher Education is in a Massive Bubble (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#36288458)

Personally, I wish that had been apparent years back when I was getting my bachelors. It wasn't until I got out and found that I needed more education or experience for most jobs, even entry level jobs required both, that I realized what a predicament I was in. It does tend to get a bit better once you push through to a Masters or even just a Masters' level certificate, as there are fewer people to compete with, and it's less likely that somebody is going to be able to finish it and still be completely worthless. MBAs excepted.

But that was a decade ago, and things are definitely worse now. The cost is significantly higher than it was, the amount of aid is drastically reduced, and the number of jobs that require a degree just to get you in the door are even larger now. Yes, it's a bubble, but that doesn't mean that one can afford to ignore it anyways.

Do what you love doing (1)

shuz (706678) | more than 3 years ago | (#36288364)

What you love doing or can cope with doing for 40 years in a row.

The plural of anecdote is not data, but... (3, Interesting)

arcsimm (1084173) | more than 3 years ago | (#36288380)

Here's my anecdote/data point: I graduated last August from with a professional degree from a respected state university. Immediately thereafter, I was unemployed for six moths, and as of right now, I'm doing contract work and earning less take-home pay (after you figure in self-employment taxes) than I did the summer after I graduated from high school. So for me, figuring expenses, lost wages, etc., college works out be worth about -$200,000.

This economy sucks.

Re:The plural of anecdote is not data, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36288480)

How did you end up spending $200,000 on a degree and 6 months difference salary at a state school? Did it take you a decade to graduate?

Re:The plural of anecdote is not data, but... (1)

the_fat_kid (1094399) | more than 3 years ago | (#36288574)

Good question.
My little sister got her MFA last year.
I think she spent 6 years in school.
Most of it on out of state tuition.
Loans, grants and the like. Dad sure didn't have the funds to pay for it.
Her debt is $175,000
still more than she will ever be able to repay but not $200k
I think that you over paid.

Re:The plural of anecdote is not data, but... (2)

DesertBlade (741219) | more than 3 years ago | (#36288652)

Read the parent, he included lost wages. $200,000 seems about right.

Re:The plural of anecdote is not data, but... (2)

arcsimm (1084173) | more than 3 years ago | (#36288578)

Five years, but that's how long the program was. That's also five years that I wasn't working, except for early on when there were still summer internships to be had. By the end of my third year those were drying up pretty quickly.

Re:The plural of anecdote is not data, but... (1)

blackraven14250 (902843) | more than 3 years ago | (#36288698)

It's a state university, not an in-state school. It could very well be that he went out of state.

Re:The plural of anecdote is not data, but... (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36288706)

I'm doing contract work and earning less take-home pay (after you figure in self-employment taxes) than I did the summer after I graduated from high school.

You're doing the wrong comparison. The relevant comparison is not "with a college degree, now (in a bum economy)" vs. "without a college degree, then (in a good economy)", but "with a college degree, now (in a bum economy)" vs. "without a college degree, now (in a bum economy)". The problem is that without a time machine, we can't do that comparison for your particular case.

But we can look at how people with and without a college degree are doing, and it turns out [npr.org] that unemployment figures for college-educated people are less than half that of those with only a high school diploma.

So if you're doing poorly because you can't find any decent work, even with a college degree, there's a fair probability that you wouldn't have *any* job if all you had was a high school diploma. I have no clue what you were doing the summer after high school, but it's a good bet that whatever it was wouldn't have been sustainable - that is, chances are you couldn't have made it a full time, long term job, or even if you could, you would have been handed a pink slip the moment the economy turned south.

So look at the glass not as three quarters empty, but as a quarter full.

Value decreasing? (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36288478)

In 2002 the US Census Bureau calculated that the value of an average degree over a lifetime was $2.1 million [census.gov]

Has the value dropped that much in 10 years? Taking inflation into account, the value's gone from roughly $2.6 million down to less than $1 million? I know we're comparing average to median here, but I have a hard time believing Warren Buffett et al are skewing the numbers by a factor of 2.5+.

Re:Value decreasing? (3)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#36288800)

The problem is that you're out of the work force and hence not gaining experience, if you're not fortunate you're probably not gaining much in the way of networking. I had a really hard time making the transition because I had worked in high turn over fields prior to going to college, as a result when I got out of school I had a really hard time getting references just to apply for jobs. Additionally since work study was only for certain subsets of people on financial aid and I went to a school in the middle of nowhere, the chances of working during the school year were pretty slim. On top of which I had to contend with applications which were very narrowly defined in terms of the degrees that they'd accept, even if there was no particular reason for it.

What's particularly nasty is that if you don't manage to get into your field of choice very quickly you end up losing more and more ground versus the idealized model that the census is presumably using. Which means anybody that's graduated in the last couple years that hasn't managed to find something in their field is likely to fall further behind, they probably will eventually catch up, but losing that half mill wouldn't be surprising at all.

Q... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36288592)

What do you do with a BA in English?

Re:Q... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36288684)

Sucker other people into getting a BA in English and paying you for it?

Re:Q... (5, Interesting)

Xaositecte (897197) | more than 3 years ago | (#36288794)

Develop a technical bent and become a technical writer?

Develop a journalistic bent and become a journalist?

Become a secretary, writing out reports on behalf of, and to be read by, people with other skills?

There's an astonishingly large number of very bad writers out there and the one thing a BA in English MIGHT be able to convince people of is that you're able to string sentences together.

Re:Q... (1)

danlock4 (1026420) | more than 3 years ago | (#36289040)

[Something] a BA in English MIGHT be able to convince people of is that you're able to string sentences together.

...and more importantly, that you, the English grad, are able to cohesively and concisely compose documents that are easy to read (for the target audience), convey meaning appropriately and in the order intended, and that your strung-together sentences comprise a greater whole than the haphazardly-strung-together sentences of someone without your knowledge and experience.

Liberal Arts Major (1)

zanian (1621285) | more than 3 years ago | (#36288624)

FTA: "'The image higher education carries of itself as a large liberal-arts institution where everyone sits on the lawn and reads Shakespeare," he says, "hasn't been true since the 70s.'"

Sigh... that's my major. Not that i don't love what I study, but even if I pretend otherwise, it always hurts a little bit when I get asked what my major is and upon hearing it's in the arts I get the famous, "what are you going to do with it?" question.

Re:Liberal Arts Major (2, Funny)

pauljlucas (529435) | more than 3 years ago | (#36288692)

... I get asked what my major is and upon hearing it's in the arts I get the famous, "what are you going to do with it?" question.

Well, what are you going to do with it?

Re:Liberal Arts Major (2)

zanian (1621285) | more than 3 years ago | (#36288948)

... I get asked what my major is and upon hearing it's in the arts I get the famous, "what are you going to do with it?" question.

Well, what are you going to do with it?

I knew that was coming and I imagine you know what I will say. I have no plans for a job, maybe teaching or writing? I'm a musician in my spare time and I dabble in programming (why else would I be here?) and I actually have a pretty good set-up for school. I live in Montreal and pay a very minimal amount for university (about $1500 a semester, cheapest in Canada) and I'm at a small Liberal Arts College. All we do is read literature, philosophy, history and political science and then discuss it/write papers. So basically, I'm getting a degree to read (a lot) and write.

I still haven't answered your question. After my undergraduate I will probably move to Europe (I speak English, French and German) and study comparative literature or history and keep learning language (next on the list is Dutch and Russian). Mostly I'm interested in German history and Marxist history (not that I am a Marxist, but historically it fascinates me). Teaching is an extremely competitive profession in universities and I am not relying on getting a job - I know I could be waiting more than a decade - but for now I am not worried about that. i definitely enjoy what I study and even if it involved working odd jobs and living cheap for the rest of my life it would be the only way I would be happy.

Re:Liberal Arts Major (0)

vgerclover (1186893) | more than 3 years ago | (#36288938)

So, what are you going to do with it?

unemployable majors? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36288642)

I have friends who are pursuing majors like "Art History". What on earth can you do with that? Maybe work in a museum (VERY few jobs there) or teach. That's about it.

As much as a person might be interested in that kind of thing, it seems on some level like you have look to the future a little bit and consider that you will need to make money.

It seems to me that there are a handful of majors like that - things that are damn near 100% unemployable. They don't seem to show up in this ranking but I wonder what becomes of those folks.

Re:unemployable majors? (1)

zanian (1621285) | more than 3 years ago | (#36288678)

Most of them do something else or go on to higher levels, as you suspected. On that note, I will stop procrastinating (my last Art History paper of the semester is due today) and get back to work. And no, I'm not in Art History (however, as I've said somewhere above, my major is just as useless), but my major includes some flexibility and offered an honours seminar that I couldn't resist.

Trade-school mentality (5, Insightful)

Atmchicago (555403) | more than 3 years ago | (#36288676)

The point of getting a degree from college isn't to learn vocational skills, it's to more generally broaden yourself and to learn how to learn. The whole notion that your degree should directly influence your earnings is reflective of how today many people go to college to get vocational training. If you want to teach mathematics, you shouldn't get an education degree in college, you should get a mathematics degree, and then go on to teaching from there. If you want to go into business, learn some more fundamental skills like statistics and critical thinking, intern over your summers, and then go to business school for your MBA.

Perhaps even more troubling is the notion that the sole goal in life is to make more money. What about doing a job that you enjoy, even if it pays less?

Re:Trade-school mentality (3, Insightful)

AtlanticCarbon (760109) | more than 3 years ago | (#36288844)

The "make more money" is really popular among college students. They don't seem to fathom the possibility that they could end up hating their job some day.

Re:Trade-school mentality (1)

IQgryn (1081397) | more than 3 years ago | (#36288904)

More likely they don't think they'll find a job they actually like.

Re:Trade-school mentality (4, Insightful)

MacTO (1161105) | more than 3 years ago | (#36288956)

My pa always used to say, "you can live to work or you can work to live." I suppose the former are more interested in doing a job that they enjoy and the latter are more interested in a job with good earnings. Neither philosophy is inherently better, as long as you choose the one that reflects what you're trying to get out of life.

Re:Trade-school mentality (3, Interesting)

demonlapin (527802) | more than 3 years ago | (#36289004)

States support education because it is believed that higher levels of education mean better jobs and more tax money from businesses and individuals. (I personally think that correlation is pretty weak once you start to talk about a fixed population - smart people tend to get more education, but even if uneducated they would still be smarter, run businesses better, etc.) If making more money isn't the point of a college degree, why should the taxpayers subsidize you?

Re:Trade-school mentality (1)

vgerclover (1186893) | more than 3 years ago | (#36289216)

If making more money isn't the point of a college degree, why should the taxpayers subsidize you?

Because an overall more educated populace is a net gain for itself? With more educated voters you'll get a better government. With more highly skilled workers, you'll have better products. The same reason that the taxpayers should subsidize the vaccines for everyone: although the recipient is one, it benefits everyone.

Re:Trade-school mentality (1)

PatTheGreat (956344) | more than 3 years ago | (#36289196)

You know what? I hear this argument all the time, and I'm sick of it. I don't know what terribly useless degree you got, but I got a degree in chemistry. And tell you what, I learned the skills necessary to be a useful contributer to a lab. I know, because I was a useful contributer to a lab during my internship, and there I also met other dudes with a BS in chemistry who were doing the actual, hands-on chemistry that I thought was cool in the first place. So bah; if your college isn't teaching you anything useful, go to a better damn college.

"Business-hospitality management"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36288680)

Blimey, I didn't know you could get degrees in that! Very lucrative if you get contacts with the bible-bashing family-values congress critters.

Degree is worthless if there are no jobs (1)

webdog314 (960286) | more than 3 years ago | (#36288704)

Nursing is an interesting example of this problem. 5-6 years ago the industry was screaming for help, so tons of new nursing programs opened at universities and were quickly filled. Today, those nursing grads are having a horrible time getting work. It's not like you can just put your chosen career on hold for 2-3 years while the economy recovers.

Re:Degree is worthless if there are no jobs (1)

demonlapin (527802) | more than 3 years ago | (#36289012)

Healthcare in general is a good example of this.

What would you study if you could go back? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36289130)

assuming you had the brains and experience to do it. I'd try and do a double major in horticulture and music technology, maybe with electives in social studies.

$100,000 for dropping? (2)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 3 years ago | (#36288744)

Dropping out of college might be good for some people, but....

and maybe I am dumb, but I learned a LOT my last two years of college. Those were the hardest years (as far as my major was concerned), and also where I got to take the most interesting classes like AI and compiler design. I strongly suggest not dropping out of school. On the other hand it worked for Bill Gates.

Fun with aggregate statistics. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36288792)

All undergraduate degrees are worth it? Bullshit. Worth it compared to what? Averaging the earnings of high school graduates with college graduates, and then concluding that the college degree was worth it is complete BS. The choice is never "high school" or "college" (since neither are generic career paths). Even worse is then comparing the breakdown of different majors compared to the entire aggregate of high school grads. (Hint, there's delineation of earnings within High School grads. Some people work as plumbers, and some people work as ditch diggers).

"was it worth it" is an extraordinarily complex question to answer, even if you base it just on earnings. It can only be answered by the choices the individual has, and certainly not answered using aggregate statistics. If you want to make economic decisions based on career paths, that might be useful. I think we all know stopping your education at High School and deciding to wait tables the rest of your life at Perkins is going to be a bad economic choice. But what about becoming an electrician, plumber, or roofer compared to getting an undergrad in psychology and being a counsellor earning (apparently) 29K a year? I'd guess the skilled trades have the undergrad in psychology beat.

The point being, there's a hell of a lot more choices beyond "do I go to college, or not".

The value of businesses (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36288850)

Money is not finite because value can be created but time is finite so mindshare is finite. Given that assumption, how big can the average business be if everybody drop from college and start a business? Probably they'll be small because they won't be able to attract enough customers. When that happens staying in college will let you get hired by one of the big businesses and make more money than if you were an entrepreneur. It's a variation of the law of diminishing returns. Probably this one has a name on its own and somebody out here knows it.

This whole notion stinks.... (1)

metalmaster (1005171) | more than 3 years ago | (#36288900)

The idea that a college education is an interim between high school and a career is foolish. I've only completed my Associates' degree up to this point, and i know it's worthless in the current job market. School isn't just a stepping stone in my career. I went to the local community college on grants and scholarships. I took classes that I'm interested in, and I came away with an A.S in Information Science. During my time in school I found other people like myself who enjoyed what they were doing and excelled in their learning experience. I also encountered other people. These people viewed their coursework as a means to an end and plenty struggled with it. Some people struggled until they broke down and quit.

I understand that there are careers out there that require strong backgrounds in the maths and sciences. That should have a prerequisite of rigorous study in those topics. However, jobs outside that domain are better served by individuals with experience. For example, I think a person with years of retail experience is more beneficial in a lower to middle management position at a store than someone who has a degree in management but never manned a register or stocked shelves. There are certain nuances of retail culture that can only be gained with experience. This applies to any other profession as well.

Im currently in the market for a position on an IT support team. I've seen numerous job postings that require a bachelors' degree with a "we train" clause. Or a minimum wage position that requires a degree + x years of experience. C'mon, a high school grad with a mild interest in computers could man a tier 1 support line. I'd expect most BA/BS candidates to scoff at a minimum wage position.

does it include (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36288930)

I wonder if this esteemed study included guys like Bill Gates, Sergey Brin, etc. Their inclusion might skew the results a tad.

Pretty interesting study, (4, Interesting)

davide marney (231845) | more than 3 years ago | (#36289002)

once you get past the race and gender tables. The actual facts about the comparative values of various majors starts around Table 30.

The problem with looking at this from a race/gender perspective is that the data tells us almost nothing about why there is a difference between these categories. For example, the study reveals that Petroleum is a specialty major, that 100% of the people who majored in it are men, and that this major has the highest median income.

OK, facts noted. Does this mean that men are better suited to be Petroleum Engineers than women? There's no way to tell from this data set. Maybe women would be great petroleum engineers, but they don't choose it because it sounds like it would be uninteresting or unpleasant or too inflexible.

What we _can learn from the data is that if you want a major that will bring in a steady, terrific income, Petroleum Engineering and other specialty majors are pretty awesome. The Study makes it pretty clear that people with "hard" majors make about twice as much as people with "soft" majors, so if money is your thing, pick a hard major. Put another way, if what you love to do is a soft major, prepare yourself for a life where you will never be tempted by the siren call of enormous wealth.

Re:Pretty interesting study, (1)

j-beda (85386) | more than 3 years ago | (#36289198)

What we _can learn from the data is that if you want a major that will bring in a steady, terrific income, Petroleum Engineering and other specialty majors are pretty awesome. The Study makes it pretty clear that people with "hard" majors make about twice as much as people with "soft" majors, so if money is your thing, pick a hard major. Put another way, if what you love to do is a soft major, prepare yourself for a life where you will never be tempted by the siren call of enormous wealth.

Actually you cannot learn that such a major will bring in such an income, but rather that the people in the study who have that major had that income. The study does not show that a particular choice results in a particular outcome, but rather than certain choices are correlated with certain outcomes. The reason they are correlated is not obviously clear. Would those people who chose PEng have had similar outcomes in a different career due to their own personalities/drives/interests?

There needs to be more apprenticeships in IT / CS! (2)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | more than 3 years ago | (#36289016)

There are a few Tech / IT apprenticeship / training / programs out there that are not your Tech school / University of Phoenix type school. But are a real training / internship. As there are a lot of people that are not cut out for College or can't pay for it. There needs to be more hands on and less tech the test / the book type CS classes. Also in 4 year College there is way to much math that has little use in IT. Electrical, HVAC and plumbing is not 4 years in a class room loaded with theory no it's mixed class room with real on the job! and the class room is a lot hands on as well.

Old Data (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 3 years ago | (#36289060)

It should be kept in mind that most of this is, of necessity, old data. It probably doesn't have a lot of relevance to a time in which college degrees are, in many fields, simply losing their relevance.

By definition, old data cannot keep up with rapid new trends.

it is all about balance (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36289088)

I went to college through my PhD studying electrical engineering. I made sure that I did not leave college with debt (in fact I had an IRA). In order to make this happen, I lived inexpensively (no car, roommate as an undergraduate student, housemates as a graduate student), I worked 20+ hours per week as an undergraduate student and I earned fellowship and research assistant ships as a graduate student. After that, I went on to a carrier in electrical engineering that has been very lucrative.

These numbers seem appropriate. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36289132)

I never finished college, because real life obligations got in the way. However, I've made a career for myself in the "arts" category; I write, do a bit of illustrating and some performance stuff. I've always thought that arts degrees were a scam. You either have talent or you don't. Without a degree, I earn within that range. Highly technical degrees *should* make the most money. They're harder, and they accomplish more. I really think that the only degrees that are worth anything are the ones that are not subjective.

What does it say about our society... (3, Insightful)

Snufu (1049644) | more than 3 years ago | (#36289134)

that of all possible career paths, education has the lowest financial incentive? What does this portend for our future?

It's an arms race (1)

Paul Fernhout (109597) | more than 3 years ago | (#36289164)

College studies don't help that much, but not having the sheepskin now hurts a lot as it is used to filter on conformity, race, parental investment, age, and some other things, many of which are now illegal to ask about on job applications...

Lots of links here:
http://listcultures.org/pipermail/p2presearch_listcultures.org/2009-October/005379.html [listcultures.org]
http://listcultures.org/pipermail/p2presearch_listcultures.org/2009-November/005584.html [listcultures.org]
http://listcultures.org/pipermail/p2presearch_listcultures.org/2009-November/006005.html [listcultures.org]

Also, google on "college bubble".

How much is this book I'm reading worth? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36289166)

I wonder: I read this book the other day, it cost me 10 euroes, will it be worth it in the job market?

Assuming you live long enough (1)

cstec (521534) | more than 3 years ago | (#36289194)

It's not clear from TFA, but it doesn't appear that they have taken mortality into account. So they're selling the 'lifetime payback', but that assumes you have a lifetime.

not much.. (1)

orange47 (1519059) | more than 3 years ago | (#36289256)

..if you don't like your job. (no, not salary)
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