Career Earnings by College Major
Compare the annual median earnings from career start to retirement for 80 majors.
Compare the annual median earnings from career start to retirement for 80 majors.
This interactive map describes the prevalence of chronic absence, the share of students missing 15 or more days of school, during the 2015-16 school year. The interactive allows anyone to explore rates of chronic absence at the school, district, state, and national levels by school and student characteristics.
In this interactive, The Hamilton Project explores how college majors and occupations interact to produce a wide range of labor market outcomes. By separately examining men and women of various ages who graduate with particular college majors, labor market returns to college can be better understood.
This chart shows the distribution of the amount of debt on which students who entered repayment in 2011 defaulted on their debt. Defaulting on federal student loans has consequences for borrowers beyond affecting credit scores. There are direct financial consequences to default such as wage garnishment and offsets of tax refunds and Social Security payments. Among those who defaulted on their student loans, two thirds defaulted on less than $10,000.
This chart shows the age distribution of undergraduate students by the type of institution in which the students were enrolled in 2015. While the plurality of students at both four-year and public two-year institutions are between the ages of 18 and 24, students at for-profit institutions tend to be older: almost half are age 30 or older. Nonetheless, more than 20 percent of undergraduate students at four-year institutions are over the age of 24.
This chart describes the distribution of outstanding federal student debt in the final quarter of 2015. Over the past 15 years, the number of student loan borrowers doubled while the amount of outstanding federal student debt quadrupled.
This chart describes federal and state expenditures that support students and public institutions of higher education. Student financial aid has increased dramatically over the past 15 years, but state direct aid to institutions has stagnated. Currently, direct federal support to institutions is minimal, even though evidence suggests that greater institutional spending increases rates of college completion.
This chart shows the early-college outcomes for low-income versus high-income students. While there are many reasons for both poor and positive postsecondary outcomes for low-income students, characteristics of institutions and early progress in acquiring credits are perhaps more proximal indicators of whether a student is on-track to complete.
This chart shows the rates of enrollment postsecondary programs among by gender from 1980-2014. For the past twenty years, women have outpaced men in college attendance and degree attainment: since 1980, four year degree attainment rates have increased by 7 percentage points among men and 16 percentage points among women.
While evidence shows that certain policies such as state-supported programs and targeted interventions do seem to be effective at increasing college enrollment, evidence also suggests that federal tax credits generally do not increase enrollment rates, despite the large scale of investments in these areas. This chart shows those effects.
Is getting a college degree worth the investment? Although the labor market return to a college degree varies, particularly by the characteristics of a student and her chosen field of study, those with postsecondary degrees generally have higher lifetime earnings than those who do not. This chart shows the lifetime earnings of those who completed different levels of education.
In this interactive, THP analyzes whether rates of chronic absenteeism provide meaningful differentiation between schools, as required in the statute for the fifth indicator. We find that across the nation and in every state, rates of chronic absenteeism meaningfully differentiate between schools, meaning that rates of chronic absenteeism are widely distributed across schools and the lowest performing schools are clearly identifiable. In each state there are substantial differences across schools in rates of chronic absenteeism.
These figures show the economic returns to noncognitive and cognitive skills as measured by increases in earnings as well as the probability of full-time employment.
These charts show the relationship between cognitive skills or noncognitive skills and average median earnings for individuals ages 35 to 48, and that individuals with high levels of cognitive skills tend also to possess high levels of noncognitive skills.
This chart shows the importance of service tasks, social skill tasks, math tasks (nonroutine analytic reasoning), and routine tasks relative to their importance in the 1980 labor market. These trends reflect changes in the mix of occupations that make up the labor market over the past three decades.
Teachers who improve noncognitive skills confer large benefits on their students. This chart shows that a teacher’s ability to improve noncognitive skills has more effect on graduation rates than does her ability to raise test scores.
Rigorous evidence from studies of random assignment to high-quality preschool suggests that early childhood policy interventions have wide-ranging long-term impacts. This chart shows that preschool interventions emphasizing cognitive and noncognitive skill development have long-term economic benefits for participants.
Like cognitive skills, noncognitive skills can be developed, nurtured, and taught. This chart shows that targeted noncognitive skill development interventions improve student achievement and reduce behavior-related problems.
Noncognitive skills include factors that predict college readiness and completion—including resilience, persistence, and self-control —that are also consequential for the labor market. This chart shows that individuals in the bottom quartile of noncognitive skills are only about one-third as likely to complete a postsecondary degree as are individuals in the top quartile.
Explore state-level variation in charter school access and enrollment between 2000 and 2015.
Over the period 1990 to 2013, the real earnings of individuals with lower levels of education have tended to decline, while they have risen for those with at least a bachelor’s degree.
Using major-specific earnings data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, The Hamilton Project has created a student loan repayment calculator that shows the share of earnings necessary to service traditional loan repayment for 80 majors.
Graduates of majors with initially low earnings experience faster earnings growth during the early-career years.
Since about 1980, the growth of single-parent families has been driven almost entirely by an increase in childbearing outside of marriage, often the result of people sliding into relationships and having an unplanned baby.
The United States does not currently invest heavily in vocational training compared with other countries, and funding for vocational training has declined over the past decades. The United States spends less than 0.05 percent of its gross domestic product on vocational training opportunities for workers.
This chart illustrates the cumulative risk of imprisonment for parents—or the projected lifetime likelihood of having served time for a person born in a specific year—by the time their child turns fourteen, by child's race and their own educational attainment. Regardless of race, fathers are much more likely to have been imprisoned than are mothers.
Nearly one out of two families in the struggling lower-middle class is headed by an adult who has attended college. Among household family heads with income between 100 and 250 percent of the FPL, 48 percent have attended some college, and 14 percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher. In stark contrast to those living at or below 250 percent of the FPL, 77 percent of household family heads above 250 percent of the FPL attended at least some college, and about half have a bachelor’s degree or higher.
The most competitive colleges cost the least for low-income students while providing the most instructional expenditure per student. The most competitive colleges spend over $25,000 on instructional expenditure for each student yet the average low- income family pays less than $8,000 out of pocket for these schools. At the least selective four year colleges, low-income families pay over $15,000 out of pocket yet their students receive only around $5000 in instructional expenditure.
Only a small fraction of high-achieving, low-income students apply to schools where their achievement is similar to that of their fellow student.
Despite rising tuition costs and increased student debt burden, the rate of return of investing in a college education is still much higher than other conventional investments. The average rates of return of receiving an associate’s, bachelor’s, or professional degree are all over nine percentage points higher than the average returns from investing in stocks.
The earnings of college graduates are much higher than for nongraduates, and that is especially true among people born into low-income families. As the figure shows, without a college degree a child born into a family in the lowest quintile has a 45 percent change of remaining in that quintile as an adult and only a 5 percent chance of moving into the highest quintile.
The gap between high- and low-income groups in college outcomes extends beyond college graduation rates. This figure demonstrates that the most-competitive colleges are attended almost entirely by students from higher-socioeconomic status households.
One significant consequence of growing income inequality is that, by historical standards, high-income households are spending much more on their children’s education than low-income households. This figure shows enrichment expenditures—SAT prep, private tutors, computers, music lessons, and the like—by income level.
While social mobility and economic opportunity are important aspects of the American ethos, the data suggest they are more myth than reality. In fact, a child’s family income plays a dominant role in determining his or her future income, and those who start out poor are likely to remain poor. This figure shows the chances that a child’s future earnings will place him in the lowest the or the highest quintile depending on where his parents fell in the distribution (from left to right on the figure, the lowest, middle, and highest quintiles).
Before allowing this sticker price of college be a deterrent to pursuing higher education, students must look deeper to learn whether those costs apply to them. Looking at net tuition—the price that the average student actually pays after financial aid—the picture is very different.
Many workers can benefit substantially from worker training programs, which provide education and skill development that lead to increased economic opportunities and better jobs. Students who earn two-year degrees in a high-return field, four-year degrees after a two-year degree, or certain career-oriented certificates, earn median salaries of $34,000 or more per year. Students who earn two-year degrees in low-return fields or who do not complete their programs earn around 33 percent less.
College education has historically driven increases in labor productivity, which in turn lead to wage growth. This same trend has emerged during the last 40 years. As women’s college-graduation rates jumped over 20 percentage points since 1970 , female workers’ wages increased by similarly high rates.
Despite widespread claims that a college degree is no longer worth the rising price of tuition, a bachelor’s degree still has about the same return on investment today as it did in the 80s. College still pays for itself, and then some; it will earn you, on average, a 16 percent return, which is a higher rate of return than on investments in the stock market (6.8 percent), corporate bonds (2.9 percent), gold (2.3 percent), long-term government bonds (2.2 percent), or housing (0.4 percent).
The vast majority of the institutionalized population ages twenty-five to sixty-four are in prison (with the rest in nursing homes), and over the past four decades, the share of Americans without a high school diploma that has been institutionalized has nearly tripled, while the rate for college graduates has remained unchanged.
On average, charter schools perform no better than traditional public schools. Some, however, such as those in the Harlem Children’s Zone, have demonstrated a remarkable ability to improve student test scores.
There is no single solution to the many problems facing America’s education system, but research has shown that many small-scale interventions offer the promise of bettering student outcomes. For instance, incentivizing students to read books has been shown to increase reading comprehension scores.
While public education is the great equalizer in America, many students arrive at school less prepared and fall further behind during school, resulting in a society where opportunities are not equally shared. For example, the data show a clear achievement gap between black and white students that appears as early as kindergarten and grows with time.
Education is one of the most important determinants of an individual’s earnings potential. For example, while almost 80 percent of high school dropouts made less than $30,000 in 2010, the cutoff for the 80th percentile among college graduates was around $100,000.
Retraining in technical fields provides higher returns for workers than retraining in non-technical classes.
Students are more likely to respond to education incentives for certain inputs, such as reading books, than more general outputs, such as making good grades.
Over the last 40 years, the salary gap between teachers and nonteachers has grown by over $10,000.
Investments in education have narrowed the black-white skill gap for much of the twentieth century, but has stagnated since the 1980s.
The United States scores below the OCED average in mathematics, despite spending $3,000 more per student than the OCED average.
Over the last 30 years, math and reading test scores for high school seniors have barely moved.
The United States lags far behind other countries in training students in the STEM fields that advance scientific and technological innovations.
Despite continued debate over the value of a college education, data shows that higher education has a much higher rate of return than any other investment.
In today’s economy, those young adults with a college degree are more likely to be employed and earn higher wages than their peers with a high school diploma only or less.
Despite increases in per-student education spending, high school and college completion rates have stagnated over the past 30 years.
In addition to the 14 million Americans officially counted as unemployed, there are over 11 million American workers who are underutilized, underemployed, or have given up seeking work.
College tuition and fees have risen dramatically during the last 30 years for public and private U.S. institutions and are projected to continue increasing.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the United States led the world in the share of the population that completed a college degree; by 2008 that lead had essentially vanished.
In communities with large numbers of displaced workers, more-educated workers are more likely to move to a new city of country in search of employment than less-educated workers.
Educational attainment of foreign-born workers in the American workforce varies widely.
Over the past three decades, the wages of college graduates — both men and women — have increased significantly more than the wages of less educated workers.
A study on Baltimore public schools shows that socio-economic status impacts academic achievement during the summer months.