What’s a College Degree Worth?

May 21, 2012 at 12:54 pm

Despite recent news about ever-increasing tuition rates and student loan debt reaching record high levels, it is hard to question the value of higher education. Various studies (most recently by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce) have shown that a college education increases average lifetime earnings by approximately one million dollars. As human resource professionals, you know better than anyone else what significance is placed on a college degree in hiring practices.

What’s Your College Degree Worth?

Though the monetary value of degree attainment has a long history of academic study, a more recent subject of analysis has been the worth of specific college majors. This past week, Forbes Magazine reported on a new study by the compensation research firm PayScale, undertaken to ascertain the 15 most valuable college majors in the current marketplace.

Perhaps not surprisingly, math and science majors, particularly in the field of engineering, fared best on the PayScale list, with biomedical engineering ranked as the most valuable college major. Graduates in such technical fields have the strongest starting and mid-career salaries, as well as high projected job growth for the future. Majors that did not fare so well: child and family studies, elementary education, social work, culinary arts, special education, recreation and leisure studies, religious studies, and athletic training.

The Stress of Financing the Future

As a College Coach(R) finance educator, I talk to our clients’ employees every day about the value of a college education and their worries about paying for that education for their children. In a recent survey of a representative sample of the U.S. workforce, 56% of respondents reported experiencing either “somewhat significant” or “very significant” stress about “financing their child’s future education.” When counseling these stressed-out working parents, I try to help them find an appropriately priced education for their children, taking each student’s likely major into account, so as not to over-burden the family with debt.

As I recently discussed in College Coach’s The Insider blog, a good rule of thumb is that a student’s total education loan borrowing should not exceed her likely first year salary, so while that future biomedical engineer can feel fairly comfortable borrowing some student loans to finance a more expensive degree, the parents of a child who has known since kindergarten that she wants to be a kindergarten teacher need to be more careful with their education dollars and the amount of debt that they allow their child to take on.

The Road Your Family Can Afford

Yes, despite recent fanfare, it is possible to get through college with little or no debt. Tax-advantaged college savings accounts encourage parents to start planning early, and discounts on the price of college are readily available, whether through state subsidies, need-based aid, or recruitment scholarships. College Coach works with employees to help them find a quality degree program in their child’s chosen major at the price they can afford.  Therefore, while not every college student will choose a high paying career field, parents who work with College Coach to find the best college value can rest assured that they’ve made a sound investment in their child’s future.

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  1. August 4, 2014 11:17 am

    College Applications for STEM Majors | Bright Horizons Blog wrote:

    […] working parents of future scientists may not be particularly worried about return on college investment, overall confidence in the value of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) […]