10 Worst College Majors — You Do Not Necessarily Get What You Pay For (or borrow for)
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When I was Chief Economist at the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University, I also had the opportunity to serve for two years as President for the campus-wide academic honor society, Phi Kappa Phi. I am also a member of Phi Kappa Phi—from when I completed my undergraduate degree at Colorado State University in Agricultural Economics. The Phi Kappa Phi web site states “The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi is the nation’s oldest and most selective all-discipline honor society.” That accolade and five bucks will get you a coffee at Starbucks…. Still I am proud to have the Phi Kappa Phi recognition. And I gave up coffee in 1994.
Let me next say some of the most talented people I have ever met and worked with had no college or degree what-so-ever. So for some, it is them, their people skills and skill-set that makes them — NOT the education.
At Texas A&M each year, we were able to invite into membership up to the top 7.5 percent of juniors, top 10 percent of seniors and top 10 percent of graduate students, honoring them for academic excellence. This was an earned invitation—based on the individual’s academic performance. Read that as a grade point average. And I learned a long time ago in high school that good grades do not necessarily translate into economic success.
What surprised me at Texas A&M was the percentage of each college at the university and their relative percentages of students with very high academic performance. While I always thought the brain trust on campus was heavier in engineering, physics, statistics and mathematics, there was always a much lower percentage of majors in those disciplines with grade points able to make it into the honor society. Yet even the lower-grade point majors in engineering, statistics, applied math and physics often made multiples of what many other, higher-grade point students made. There was a disconnect from academic performance to financial gains. I do, however, admit, that for many, whatever degree they receive is simply an entry ticket to the next economic opportunity. So whatever major they had really is inconsequential. But that is the exception, not the rule. When at Colorado State, I can recall that we had more forestry majors at the university than the total number of forestry jobs in the entire state. That was not a optimum investment return for many of those majors.
So in tough (and good) economic times, education and skill sets count.
Forbes magazine wrote about the 10 least valuable college majors in October.
The article was based on a Georgetown University study. The top 10-worst majors based on income and employment rates include:
- Anthropology and Archeology
- Film, Video and Photographic Arts
- Fine Arts
- Philosophy and Religious Studies
- Liberal Arts
- Physical Fitness and Parks and Recreation
- Commercial Art and Graphic Design
- English Language and Literature
So not all college degrees are economically equal, but they cost essentially the same. Even though a student may be attracted to a major does not necessarily make it a good investment. The Georgetown study found that while the typical college graduate made $1.2 million more than a non-college grad in the 45 years following graduation, an engineering grad earned $3 million more. Wow. So if you pursue your passion and it is not one of the higher salaries, go for an advance degree, says the Georgetown study.
The rule of thumb is that a student should not borrow more than their first year’s salary. Tell your kids. That is sound economic advice. And choices come with economic ramifications. Tell them that also.
Having just come back from my 40th high school class reunion from Montrose, Colorado, I also realize there are more variables than just income to consider. A classmate that was a forest ranger (forestry major at Colorado State) retired two years ago. At the age of 55.
Amazing that most of my high school class of 1972 have retired (work 30 years for the government—whether local, state or federal—says your done). And they do not worry about 401Ks since they are all drawing pensions—that you and I pay for. Not affected by the stock market or their investments.
So here I sit on an airplane writing this and not even contemplating retirement, and I have to question who really won the race.
But I love what I do. So hopefully you will have put up with me for several more years.
I think I win. The people I work with at Stewart and our customers are awesome.