Economic Value of a Bachelor’s Degree

Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce has released a new study, “What’s It Worth?: The Economic Value of College Majors,” assessing employment and earnings statistics for recipients of Bachelor’s Degrees.

So what is a Bachelor’s degree worth?  A lot!  An individual who earns a bachelor’s degree should earn approximately 84 percent more over his or her lifetime than a peer who has only earned a high school diploma!

However, there are great disparities between the earning potentials of different majors.  It is crucial to note that this study is based exclusively on an analysis of individuals with terminal majors, thus no graduate degrees.

The Georgetown study is available online at the Center on Education and the Workforce.

This study provides useful information for current university students, prospective students, and parents—although it does risk reinforcing the trend toward the commodification of higher education.  I still believe that students should pursue their intellectual passions and career aspirations, but with practical financial planning to help them accomplish their educational goals.

The study’s data on B.A.s in History shows both advantages and disadvantages of the History Major when compared with other majors.  Recipients of degrees from a number of other majors make higher median salaries than historians, but some of those majors also feed into occupations that suffer from high unemployment.

History Majors earned a median salary of $50,000 (and those in United States History $57,000).   A healthy 93% of History majors were employed (with 84% holding full-time positions).  Unfortunately, History Majors nationwide are not very diverse: Whites (86%), African-American (5%), Hispanic (5%), Asian (4%), Other (.5%).  A respectable 46% of History Majors go on to obtain a graduate degree, which boosts their earnings considerably.  History Majors have diverse employment possibilities, with 18% of them entering management occupations, 16% engaging in sales, 14% going into office work, 13% taking up educational positions, and 5% landing business jobs (for definitions of these occupations, see the full report).

Social Sciences and History Education Majors (which are grouped under Education rather than under Humanities) had a relatively low median salary of $42,000.  The employment picture looked good, however, with 96% of these graduates employed (and 84% of them in full-time positions).  These majors had various employment paths available.

The American Historical Association’s AHA Today blog has a post by Robert B. Townsend assessing the Georgetown report.  The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on the Georgetown study, and the Washington Post offers this assessment online.

Although the Georgetown report identifies relative economic values of different majors, the report makes a strong case for the economic advantages of college education.

Interestingly, another story today discusses the value of college education from another angle. The Thiel Foundation has offered 24 $100,000 fellowships to students who avoid going to college (or take a break from college) in a bid to challenge the worth of higher education.  Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal, believes that higher education is unnecessary and wasteful.  NPR’s Marketplace offers a debate regarding the worth of Thiel’s approach to alternative education.

I find Thiel’s ideas ludicrous.  He seems to think that we can just allow a few students a year (24 at an enormous cost of $2,400,000 this year in his program) to become entrepreneurs and this alternative “education” will somehow give them skills and experiences necessary to launch their lives and careers.  This is quite obviously an extremely elitist and anti-democratic vision that would extraordinarily raise, not lower, the cost of education if applied to any significant segment of the population.  But, of course, Thiel wouldn’t even want to do that.  Producing a one-in-a-million success story (such as Thiel in online enterprise, Steve Jobs in computers, Lady Gaga in music, or Michael Jordan in basketball) is what this initiative is all about.  Thiel simply ignores the rest of the students who might follow his advice to drop out of college, and then will likely be headed into lower paying and more vulnerable jobs—if they can even find them.

I will update this post once I have a chance to examine the Georgetown data on History Majors a bit more.

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This entry was posted in Education Policy, Humanities Education, The Past Alive: Teaching History. Bookmark the permalink.

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