As you may have read in a recent news report, Marshall’s senior class earned $5M in merit-based scholarships this college-placement season. While we are rightly proud of their accomplishments, a recent report by the Harvard Graduate School of Education paints a drastically different picture for the nation as a whole.

In their “Pathways to Prosperity” report, researchers highlight a litany of sobering statistics:

  • While 70% of our high school graduates go on to college, only 30% complete a bachelor’s degree by age 27;
  • The United States now has the highest college dropout rate in the industrialized world;
  • Men currently account for 43% of the enrollment in US colleges and only 40% in US graduate schools.

All of this against a backdrop of joblessness that is staggering, with our teen and young adult employment rates as high as those in the Great Depression.

The Harvard report places a good deal of blame on our inability to equip students with the 21st century skills they need to be successful. Citing a survey of hundreds of employers called “Are They Ready to Work?”, they say: “The authors were especially scathing regarding high school graduates, concluding that more than half were ‘deficient’ in such skills as oral and written communication, critical thinking and professionalism.”

Despite a decade of efforts to have “no child left behind,” the US has made very few gains in international education rankings, with the most recent tests in science and math placing us 17th and 25th respectively.

The Harvard report goes on to ask our educational leaders to back away from the call of “college for everyone” and focus more on preparing students for community college and vocational education. It goes on to ask our business community to support these efforts by opening up more “pathways to prosperity” through job training programs and internships.

College and Beyond
As a graduate of a liberal arts college (Um Yah Yah), I am a firm believer in the value of a broad-based education. However, I also LOVE statistics. So I am a sucker for some of the recent studies that tell us how the choices our students make in college will impact their future careers (and earnings).

One of the more interesting reports comes from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. In one of the widest studies to date, their researchers analyzed the earning power of 171 undergraduate majors. The top “major groups” in earning power were:

  1. Engineering
  2. Computers and Mathematics
  3. Business
  4. Health
  5. Physical Sciences

While these rankings aggregate individual majors into categories, the highest paying single major was Petroleum Engineering at a median salary of $120K and the lowest paying major was Counseling Psychology at $29K. According to the study, the most popular major group is business (25% of all students); second most popular, education (10.6%).

This study can be compared with a different report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that examined 800 jobs across America based on annual salary. According to this survey, nine of the top 10 paying jobs in America are in the health-care industry (with surgeon listed first). The only non-health position to crack the top 10: CEO. (Great work if you can get it!)

(Geek Alert: Statistical Aside)
And where to find those $120K petroleum engineers from the Georgetown study? Their annual pay listed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics did indeed nearly match ($128K). Why, then, weren’t they number one in both studies? The difference, I would expect, is that a larger number of medical professionals and CEOs come from a variety of different majors … making a direct comparison between career and major difficult. Not true, I would surmise, for petroleum engineering.

No matter what you make of all the individual data, pulling all of these stats and the Harvard report together paints a very different career landscape from when I graduated college (Go Oles!) — and stresses more now than ever that we need to graduate high school students who are disciplined, creative, and ready to continue their personal and professional development well beyond college.


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