The debate over whether college is worth the cost has picked up steam as tuition prices continue to outpace inflation and student loan debt continue to balloon, but a new study is shifting the question away from the price tag to focus on picking the right major.
As 2013 grads try to enter the workforce, their degree will have a major impact on their job prospects, according to a new study from Georgetown University .
Overall unemployment rates for college graduates with work experience hover between 4.6% and 4.7%, but the overall rate for recent grads is much higher at 7.9%--higher than the nation’s overall unemployment rate of 7.5% in April, according to the Labor Department.
Tony Carnevale, director of Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, says the question of if college degrees pay off misses the point.
“More and more today, it’s which degree is worth it,” Carnevale says. “What has changed over time is that the value of college has gone up a lot, but even faster is the difference in value in the field of study.”
Georgetown’s report found the unemployment rate for nursing grads was the lowest at 4.8%, while graduates in information systems, especially concentrated in clerical functions, are unemployed at the highest rate of 14.7%.
“That was surprising,” Carnevale says. “We are aware of this high rate because of the debate on the immigration bill H1B. When the economy goes down, the job at the interface of customers gets lost. They will hire the person who makes the software or makes the computer work, but not the people at the interface.”
People with architecture degrees face bleak hiring prospects with the study showing a 12.8%. underemployment rate of people with this degree . Unemployment is also higher for those in non-technical majors, such as the arts 9.8% or law and public policy 9.2%.
Majors with higher rates of employment include education (5%), engineering (7%) and health and sciences (4.8%), the report says, because these fields are all experiencing growth.
Major choice also influences paycheck size. According to the report, those with degrees in engineering earn a median of $54,000, while arts, psychology and social work majors earn a median of $30,000 annually.
Graduate degrees can also help increasing hiring prospects. The report finds the overall unemployment rate for those with graduate degrees is lower at 3.3%. Those with a degree in language and drama have an easier time in today’s market with an unemployment rate of 2.3%, while graduate degree holders in the architecture field have a higher unemployment rate of 6.9%. With the exception of arts and education, which typically have lower pay scales, those with graduate degrees make average salaries of between $60,000 and $100,000 a year.
“Graduate degrees are a very good bargain, relative to the earnings increase you get which is often 20%-to-30% higher,” Carnevale says. “They are fairly fast and efficient as well, in things like business and engineering. A lot of health-care [industries] are where a graduate degree makes it even better, with a huge salary bump and management [opportunities] by age 32.”