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Risk of Unemployment Varied by Degree

Unemployment figures show the jobless rate for recent college graduates with Bachelor's Degrees has been running at an unacceptable 8.9 percent. And while a college degree gives job seekers a formidable advantage over those without, the study points out, not all degrees are created equal, and there are a number of factors that prospective students should consider before sending off their college applications.

A survey from Georgetown Center on Education finds that unemployment among job seekers with no better than a high school diploma is a catastrophic 22.9 percent - and an almost unthinkable 31.5 percent among high school dropouts.

So, is college still worth it? A major conclusion of the new report is that it all depends on your major.

  • The highest rate, the study found, is among Architecture graduates (13.9 percent) due to the collapse of the construction and home-building industries in the recession. Unemployment is generally higher for non-technical majors, such as the Arts (11.1 percent) or Social Sciences (8.9 percent).
  • Median earnings among recent college graduates vary from $55,000 among Engineering majors to $30,000 in the Arts, as well as Psychology and Social Work.
  • For recent graduates in Math and Computing unemployment is low for specialists who can write software and invent new applications (6%), but still comparatively high (11.2 percent) for those who use software to manipulate, mine and disseminate information.
  • Unemployment rates are relatively low (5.4 percent) for recent graduates in Engineering, the Sciences, Education, or Healthcare related majors because they are tied to stable or growing industry sectors and occupations. Psychology and Social Work graduates also have relatively low rates (7.3 percent), because almost half of them work in the Healthcare or Education sectors.
  • Unemployment rates for recent college graduates who majored in Architecture start high at 13.9 percent and due to its strong alignment with the collapse in construction and housing, unemployment remains high even for experienced college graduates at 9.2 percent.
  • The overall unemployment rate for people with graduate degrees is just 3 percent. With the exception of Arts and Education, where pay traditionally has been low, workers with graduate degrees average between $60,000 and $100,000 per year, compared to a range of $48,000 and $62,000 for workers with Bachelor's Degrees.
  • Experienced college graduates in a healthcare field have lower unemployment rates than people with graduate degrees in every other field except the life and physical sciences.

Data from the American Community Survey for the years 2009 and 2010 were pooled to provide a larger sample size for the estimates. The unemployment rates were then computed for each of three groups:  recent college graduates (those between ages 22 and 26 with bachelor degrees), experienced college graduates (those between ages 30 and 54), and graduate degree holders (those with master's degrees or higher and are between 30 and 54). The unemployment rates were computed by dividing the total unemployed with the total employed and unemployed. The earnings used are median earnings in 2010 dollars rounded to the nearest $1,000. Median earnings are based on those who worked more than 35 hours a week and at least 50 weeks a year. All calculations use the survey weights provided by the Census Bureau.

Source: Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, 4/4/12