Friday, January 6, 2012

Best and Worst College Degrees?

College is not for everyone.  Many degrees in bullshit studies are worthless, in terms of employment in the field as well as eventual salary.  Education for education's sake is a fine thing, but when it costs $50,000 to $100,000, it is just a recipe for financial hardship for the middle and lower classes.

On MSNBC - the news site with in-depth analysis (Warning: The Sarcasm Light is ON), an article about the best and worst college degrees.  Well, not really.   The article is a three paragraph summary that misses the point, and then throws up one slide from a PDF document in such tiny resolution as to be unreadable.  Their only conclusion?  Don't be an architect.

Wrong answer.

The "Nooze" once again misses the point, and if you go to the source document, the data is much more complex than that.  Unemployment among recent architecture grads is high, as the building boom is over.  But careers span more than blips in the economy, and I think you have to look at long-term trends, as well as salaries.

Another report, from that great source of information, Time magazine (again, the sarcasm light is LIT), sets forth "top careers" without analyzing long and short-term trends.  Mining engineer might be hot right now, with gold being dug up everywhere, but once the bubble bursts, where are the jobs going to be?  If you picked your career based on this report, you might be unemployed and underemployed, 5-10 years from now.  This is not to say it is a bad major, only that its status at the top of the list will likely be fleeting.

Another example, from the MSNBC article, illustrates that unemployment in education is low - right now.  But that doesn't mean you are going to make a lot of money as a teacher.  Plus, as our population of school-age people flattens out, this may be a low-growth area.  In addition, with the skyrocketing cost of property taxes, many States are pushing for cuts to education - including salaries and benefits.  Short answer?  If you want to be a teacher, be a teacher.  But don't get into the field for the money, because you'll likely be disappointed (and that is true for any field, by the way).

But some of the worst fields imaginable are not on the chart on the MSNBC article, because the unemployment rate for recent graduates was unreported.  This does not mean it is zero!  It just means they have no data, and in this regard, the report in question has a lot of blank spots.

And in some cases, the jobs with the lowest unemployment rates for recent grads have salaries that are nothing short of pathetic.  For example, for Anthropology, the unemployment rate for recent grads is over 10%, and those lucky enough to find a job are making a paltry $28,000 a year.  This assumes they are working in the field - I am guessing many are not and never will.  You might be better off spending $5000 on bar-tending school than $50,000 on an anthropology degree.

Fine arts is another field - unemployment for graduates is 12% and those lucky enough to find a job are earning $30,000 a year.  It might be hard to live on that and pay back 50 grand in student loans, particularly if you are near an arts mecca like New York City.  This is not to say you should not be an artist, only that spending huge amounts on student loans to become one, might not be the best route.

To be sure, in some of these fields, there literally are no jobs for someone with just an undergraduate degree.  A graduate degree is required in many fields of endeavor, and even then, the number of jobs may be limited.  A B.S. in Physics, for example, is not very useful, while a B.S. in Electrical Engineering will land you a job.  And the irony is, many of the same courses may be required for both degrees.

A CBS report is a little more succinct and illuminating, as it reports the lowest paying college degrees in 2011.  What is interesting about this list is that it is a little less trendy that the Georgetown report (highlighted on MSNBC) or the TIME report, discussed above.  Most of the fields listed there are low-paying and have historically been so.  You can't go for a degree in theology or religious studies and then act shocked when the pay sucks - it always has and always will.  Congregations are notorious penny-pinchers.

Again, this is not to say you should pick your career based on what will make you the most money.  People who chase after the almighty dollar are usually disappointed with both the job and the money.  Do what you love and hope to get paid for it.

But when choosing a career, go into it knowing what it will pay and how this will affect your lifestyle.  Spending $50,000 to $100,000 on a college education to qualify for a job that pays $30,000 to start with a possible promotion, over many years, to $50,000, may be short sighted.  Spending that much on a degree that qualified you for no job whatsoever is kind of silly.

One adviser in this field argues that you should not borrow more than your first year's salary, and that certainly sounds like sound advice to me.   Borrow as little as you can, is my mantra.  It all has to be paid back - with interest!

The colleges and universities have done this to themselves - and are screwing the students in the process.  They have jacked up costs by 2-3 times the rate of inflation for the last 20 years.  And the middle class, desperate to hang on to what little they have, is obsessed about sending their kids to college, as some last talisman of their social status.  Colleges, sensing this desperation, have priced their educations accordingly.

Heck, folks in New York spend 20 grand a year to send their kids to preschool and then sue the school if their kid doesn't get into Harvard.  That is how desperate people are today to get ahead.  And they see "Kollege" as the way to do it.

College is a serious life choice.  My suggestion would be to find the way to do it, while spending the least amount of money possible.  I really have little or no sympathy for these "OWS" types who rang up a lot of student loan debt, studying for degrees that, with a little research, they would have know would take them nowhere.

After all, aren't college-educated people supposed to be smart?  Yes, the sarcasm light is still on...