In the Economic Recovery, College Majors Matter

Kelsey Sheehy
May 29, 2013

Bad news for newly minted college graduates: That still-crisp bachelor's degree does not guarantee employment, especially if it happens to be in architecture or information systems.

Unemployment rates for recent grads, ages 22 to 26, who majored in those fields are 12.8 and 14.7 percent, respectively, according to a report released today by the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University. The annual report looks at employment and income levels by college major, using data from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey. This year's report used figures from the 2010 and 2011 surveys.

Architects took a direct hit in the housing bubble - even graduates with several years in the field face higher than average unemployment rates - so those numbers are not surprising, says Anthony Carnevale, the center's director. Information systems is another story, he says.

[Learn why college graduates fared better in the recession.]

"We were pretty startled by that," Carnevale says, explaining that a deeper look at the figures revealed many with a bachelor's in the field work in support positions. Those roles can range from computer repair technicians to staffing a tech hotline for a large corporation.

"The term 'information worker' does not mean computer scientist," he says, adding that graduates with a bachelor's in information systems are typically "not making technology or installing technology or running networks. Their job is information transfer, usually to the customer."

Overall, the jobless rate for new graduates stands at 7.9 percent, down from 8.9 percent the previous year, according to the annual report.

Degree choice can play a significant role in employment prospects, the report notes.

Nursing, mathematics, finance and elementary education majors enjoyed unemployment rates less than 6 percent right after graduation.

Baby boomers' retiring in droves has been the 'saving grace' for education majors, Carnevale says.

"They're not adding a lot of new jobs ... but there are replacement jobs," he says. "It will take a lot of budget cutting to eliminate job openings in those functions."

These bachelor's degrees also boast strong employment rates right out of the gate:

-- Chemistry

-- General science

-- Marketing and marketing research

-- Engineering

-- Health

-- Agriculture

Each major logged unemployment rates of less than 7 percent, according to the report.

Teachers' employment prospects get even better as they log years in the field. That trend plays out across most fields. Unemployment rates for bachelor's degree holders ages 30-54 was 4.6 percent. That figure dropped to 3.3 percent for those with a master's degree.

[Learn how to calculate the return on a master's degree.]

Elementary school teachers with a graduate degree had an unemployment rate of less than 1.5 percent, according to the report. Many teachers pursue master's degrees to boost their pay, but schools are increasingly requiring teachers to have advanced degrees, says Carnevale.

"The master's is becoming the entry-level qualification," he says. "You have to have it, but that doesn't mean you'll get a lot of money."

In fact, elementary school teachers with a master's earn an average of just $55,000 a year. In most other fields a graduate degree commands an average salary of between $60,000 and $100,000 per year, the report notes.

These figures give a very broad picture of each industry, Carnevale cautions.

"When [people] read this report and it says early childhood education is a good market, they need to look closer. It only pays $22,000 and it may be in your region it has gone down because of cuts to Head Start," he says. "The devil is in the details in the relationship between college and jobs."

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