Chart: The Sliding Scale(s) of Graduate Earnings

earnings at 25th & 75th percentile


Chart: The Sliding Scale(s) of Graduate Earnings

Our chart comes to us from a treasure trove of college-related statistical breakdowns from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. The report, titled “What’s it Worth? The Economic Value of College Majors” was compiled by Anthony P Carnevale, Jeff Strohl, and Michelle Melton. They have also offered a less onerous set of select findings which includes today’s chart.

In this week’s chart we can yet again see the very real danger of relying on the flaw of averages to gauge the payoffs of a college degree. For instance, the generally true adage “college graduates earn $1 million more over a lifetime than high school-only graduates,” makes racking up enough debt to swing a hefty private school tuition seem like a no-brainer.  However, as this handy chart shows, this only tells part of the story; graduate earnings vary quite widely based on majors/programs and within employment groupings.


According to today’s chart the median salary  of all “full-time, full-year workers with a terminal bachelor’s” (as noted by the dotted line) runs somewhere just over $50,000 per year. This certainly does seem like fairly good pay these days.

But note the variance in earnings according to the degrees people obtained. For those graduating from the engineering or computers and mathematics fields, $50,000 is but a starting point with the lowest 25% of workers with these degrees making around this much. On the other hand, education majors may never achieve the median level of pay with only the top 25% of workers with those degrees earning slightly more than this per year.

Obviously, then, those wanting to go into certain fields – i.e. arts, education, psychology and social work – must take all-encompassing averages and medians with a grain of salt and prepare accordingly. Many of us cannot take for granted at all that we will ever make what the broader pool of graduates will. Those wanting to attend college for such things must be all the more cognizant to keep the spending in check and to do all it takes to find money to help with the process.