Charting the Degrees That Really Pay Off

(A science student considers career possibilities.)

A year after graduating from college, a student with a community-college degree in a health profession earns nearly double what someone with a bachelor?s degree in English does.

It also really pays to get a master?s in business or education, but not so much in mathematics or statistics.

And those who complete apprenticeships in mechanic and repair technologies make as much as computer-science majors ? at least at the start of their careers.

Those are some of the interesting tidbits in a newly revamped public-information dashboard that shows students and colleges how much various fields pay.

The dashboard is published by Washington state?s Education Research & Data Center (ERDC), an arm of the Office of Financial Management.

The data have some limitations ? they only include graduates who went to Washington public colleges and universities and remained in Washington state to work, said Jeffrey Thayne, the ERDC?s data communications coordinator, and Andrew Weller, its data-visualization analyst.

So it doesn?t include graduates who came from outside Washington and landed a job here, or people who went to an in-state private college or university. It also does not include federal-government employees, or the self-employed.

The fields of study are grouped into broad categories ? for example, ?business, management, marketing and related support services? ? so it?s not possible to break out a specific major, such as accounting, and see how salaries compare.

The data show the statewide median earnings for graduates every year after they earned their diplomas, for seven years. That helps capture how quickly, or how slowly, wages grow for certain categories of jobs.

And clicking on the ?browse by major and industry? tab shows how selected industries employ people from a variety of different fields ? for example, the aerospace industry hires people who majored in liberal arts and sciences, social sciences and journalism and communications. ?There?s not only one way to go down a career path,? Thayne said.

Former state Rep. Chad Magendanz helped sponsor a budget proviso in 2014 to create the data ?dashboard.?

?With the cost of higher education skyrocketing, it?s important that they (graduates) are not shouldered with student debt for a degree that has little market value,? he said. ?For whatever field of study they choose, they need to go in with eyes wide open.?

Magendanz said he likes the way the new dashboard added certificate programs, showing how much these credentials, which can take a year or less to earn, can help boost a career.

Here are some tidbits from the dashboard:

? Getting a master?s degree in business, management and marketing really pays off ? those holding a master?s make more right from the start, and the disparity grows slightly as the years go on. Seven years after graduation, the average student holding a master?s degree in the field makes $130,000 a year. That?s nearly double what the same graduate makes with only a bachelor?s degree.

? Getting a master?s in engineering doesn?t have the same punch. Seven years after graduation, employees holding engineering master?s were only making about $10,000 more a year than those who?d earned a bachelor?s.

? Engineering technologies and engineering-related fields (separate fields from engineering itself) paid well for those who had a certificate or associate degree. Seven years after graduating, those employees were making an average of $60,000 a year ? only about $20,000 less than their counterparts with a bachelor?s.

? No surprise here: A bachelor?s degree in computer and information sciences earned at the UW is one of the most lucrative degrees you can earn; grads were making a median of $116,000 six years after graduation. Getting a degree in the same field at Eastern Washington University didn?t pay as well ? after six years in the workforce, those grads were making about $47,000 less. But, those numbers could reflect lower pay (and lower living expenses) in Eastern Washington.

? For those going into construction trades, an apprenticeship paid off right away. Construction apprentices make an average of $65,000 one year after graduating, although wage growth was somewhat slow, reaching $70,000 after seven years. Those who earned a community-college certificate in construction started with much lower wages, but had nearly caught up to apprentices by the seventh year.

? For prospective teachers, getting a master?s in education made a significant difference in pay starting in the first year after graduation.

? It?s a long, slow climb to a decent wage for those who earn a bachelor?s in English. English majors made only $28,000 their first year after graduation, although by year seven they were up to $48,000. Having a master?s improved earnings a bit ? to $63,000 by year seven.

? Journalism and communication majors don?t make much, either, although those grads did better than English majors ? starting at $37,000 in their first year and making $57,000 after seven years. But then again, money isn?t everything.

(Article written by Katherine Long)