Five Rules of the College and Career Game

It’s no secret that the economy has changed. The mantra “go to college to get a good job” has been hammered in all of us.

There’s truth in that advice. The Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University has become one of my go-to places for details. The center reports in a recent publication “The Five Rules of the College and Career Game:”

  • Before the 1980s, two-thirds of jobs required a high school education or less.
  • “Now, except for about 20 percent of males who can still make it in the blue-collar sector, the high school economy is gone and it is not coming back.” (Think about that direct quote from the publication.)
  • Today and into the near future, two-thirds of jobs will require some college or more.

As the cost of education rises, students and their parents contemplating the next steps feel the stress to make the right choices.

So this report offers these rules. They’re not hard and fast, and there is some hedging of bets:

Education level still matters, and generally more education is better.

Median earnings increase at each step up the educational ladder, from dropout to high school to some college to associate degree to bachelor’s to graduate degrees.

Program of study and majors matter even more.

The difference between the highest degree area (architecture and engineering) and the lowest (education) is $39,000. Even so, the median earnings of education majors are 30 percent more than the median earnings of a high school graduate.

While field of study is important, it does not control one’s financial destiny.

There is great variation in earnings among majors. For example, the bottom 25 percent of architecture and engineering majors earn less than the top 25 percent of majors in either the arts or humanities and the liberal arts. From a financial standpoint, remember that Bill Gates never finished college.

Less education can be worth more.

Sounds funny, but this is the wheelhouse of community colleges. Some certificates pay higher than associate degrees. Some associate degrees pay higher than some bachelor’s degrees. Some bachelor’s degrees pay higher than some graduate degrees.

Humanities and liberal arts majors never catch up with the highest earning majors in career earnings.

But don’t let this stop you from following your passion. Walter Isaacson in “The Innovators” credits Ada Lovelace as the first computer programmer – in the 1840s. The daughter of Lord Byron, she studied mathematics and poetry.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Feeley is director of public relations at Front Range Community College.