College degrees that are profitable and popular

graduation degree
Toss the cap in the air with gusto, knowing the degree will make the tuition worth it. Credit: Metro File Photo

Ever wonder about the staying power of majors? Ben Schmidt, an assistant professor of history at Northeastern University, compiled data on the trends of majors over the past several decades. While engineering holds steady, business and life sciences degrees have shot upward along with psychology while English, education and literature are on the decline.

Dr. Paul Harrington, director of the center for labor markets and policy at Drexel University, says although some areas like engineering and nursing are stronger than ever, even with less popular majors, students need to plan. “They need to refocus and direct. It doesn’t mean not to major in English — it means to organize your extracurricular activities. If you’re interested in writing, get on the student newspaper, see if you can become a reporter for a local newspaper.”

When selecting a major, he suggests students ask themselves, “What do I like? What am I good at? Can I live the kind of life I’d like to enjoy if I go into this field?”

If they focus on the latter, several majors get the most bang for their buck: engineering, math, information technology, human resources, biology, economics, English and marketing, according to Salary.com.

Per College Board data, a four-year degree from a public university typically costs $37,343 (including tuition, room, board and books); a private school costs approximately $121,930. To determine the rate of investment, Salary.com determined the median compensation for 30 years based on its salary data. They added 4.3 percent per year for inflation and cost of living increases. After subtracting the cost of the degree from gains over 30 years, they divided that number by the cost. For instance, electrical engineer supervisors earn approximately $91,997 annually and their ROI of attending public college is 144 percent (private school is 44 percent!)

Dr. Keith Sheppard, professor and associate dean of engineering and science at Stevens Institute of Technology, confirms the hot job prospects. “Graduates from Stevens were able to get jobs even during the worst of the recent recession, and almost all of the graduating class of 2013 had found employment or were continuing on to graduate education by the end of the summer.”

Kathleen J. Fay, assistant director, career development office at Boston University, agrees. Pointing out engineering “will hold strong,” it’s recession-proof and bankable for ambitious students. Despite the struggling economy, Fay says the industry is “white hot.”

For Maria Ferreira-Cesar, mechanical engineering senior at BU, the decision to pursue engineering “aggressively sought out by almost every industry,” was a no-brainer. Fascinated by the field, excellent job opportunities and significant pay came “as a wonderful reward for years of rigorous work.” Two weeks before the semester started, Ferreira-Cesar accepted a full-time job offer with General Electric for next July.

Here are some occupations with the most bang for their tuition buck:

Electrical Engineering Supervisor
Median salary: $91,997
ROI public college: 144%
ROI private college: 44%

Laboratory Manager
Median salary: $85,292
ROI public college: 134%
ROI private college: 40%

Communications Manager
Median salary: $88,498
ROI public college: 139%
ROI private college: 42%

Human Resources Manager
Median salary: $87,184
ROI public college: 137%
ROI private college: 41%


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