Much has been made of a report from the Pew Research Center that college graduates earn at least $17,500 more compared to colleagues with only a high school diploma. This wage gap issue was also the subject of a study by the Washington-based Economic Policy Institute. According to the second report, college graduates averaged 98 percent more in hourly wages compared to non-graduates with the rate of wage disparity rising consistently since the 1980s. However, it must be emphasized that college degrees are not all equal, and the relevance of each field of study changes over time.

Chosen deliberately, a college degree becomes the ticket to a productive future. As such, planning your college track should take into consideration the potential and long-term demand for your field of study.

Healthcare Sector

The graying of America will escalate as baby boomers reach their retirement years. The aging population will boost the demand for health services, nurses, pharmacists and physician assistants, which are all high-skill occupations. Physician assistant positions will grow by 14 percent in 2017, and nurse practitioner jobs will increase at about the same rate with wages averaging $44 per hour. With more responsibilities, nurses are being challenged to improve their skills: The nursing profession may be reclassified from medium skill to high-skill occupation so completing a four-year nursing degree may soon become the minimum standard.

Education Sector

Despite the introduction of technology in modern classrooms, the demand for teachers will continue unabated. The unemployment rate among elementary education majors is only 5.1 percent, which is minimal compared to architecture graduates. BLS predicts a combined total of 1.26 million job openings for elementary, middle, high school and vocational teachers in the 10-year period ending in 2018. There will be pockets of critical need in some areas, depending on demographic shifts, but it is safe to say that education majors will be welcome in almost any part of the U.S.

It is possible to approach a career in education by focusing on a specialized field of study such as English literature, math or art education with teacher credentialing undertaken after completion of the four-year degree.

Technology Sector

Expect the technology sector to continue to be a bright spot in the employment picture in the coming years. Not only is there a need to improve on existing technologies, there is an even more pressing need for personnel to maintain the systems currently in use. This means that that those who major in computer science, software engineering and management information systems will likely find employment right out of the gate.

Technology is a very broad field, so if you have the knowledge and skill set to become a computer research scientist, software developer or information security analyst, you will be welcomed by various companies across different industries BLS estimates job openings in these sectors to reach an aggregate total of at least 1 million by 2018. For instance, computer science majors employed as security analysts can expect a 10-year job growth of 36.5 percent.

Employability and Pay Scale

The rate of return on investing in a college education is directly linked to the field of study. Reports from the Department of Education indicate that those who completed degrees in engineering, engineering technology, computer and information sciences earned more than those who majored in the social sciences based on annualized median salaries from the first few years of full-time employment. Salary trends may shift mid-career, but science and technology majors appear to have the most advantage in the job market even as fresh graduates.

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