Georgetown University Releases Two Reports on College Majors

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Publication date: 
30 April 2012

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).”