College Degrees and Unemployment: It’s Your Major, Stupid

The debate over the value of a college education has intensified of late.

This is partly due to rising education costs and high unemployment rates, but also to President Obama’s reboot of his “Don’t Double My Rate” plan to circumvent July’s increase of student loan interest rates.

Last week the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute published a report investigating college graduate job outcomes.

The study found that certain majors correlated with higher rates of successful employment.

STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) majors had the best opportunities and highest salaries. Unemployment rates for STEM graduates were around 5%. Non-technical degree graduates (humanities, policy, law) experienced unemployment rates between 10 and 15 percent.

Conclusion: your choice of a college major counts.

The “harder” majors translated into a greater number of stable and lucrative careers. Ironic, considering that fewer students are opting for STEM fields, something discussed recently on this site.

Anthony Carnevale, one of the Georgetown study’s co-authors commented:

“The labor market demands more specialization. So, the game has changed. Students probably aren’t choosing the right degrees because they haven’t been given the right guidance.”

OK, I’ll play along. Maybe, just maybe, some students haven’t been wisely advised by a guidance counselor or other adult. Young people ought to understand why they should — or need not — go to college. Those who go to college just for “the experience”, slide by with an unchallenging major, and/or have no vision for the future must realize that their choices have long-lasting consequences.

Perhaps more adults could model sound advice, good judgment, and a solid work ethic. Meanwhile, young people might do well to seek and heed the counsel of those who entered the workforce through various routes, with or without college or advanced degrees.