How to find earnings, debt potential for your college’s majors

Some graduates with A.A.'s wind up with higher loan payments than do students with bachelor's and master's degrees
By: | October 14, 2020
A new report allows users to search specific colleges, majors and degree programs to see how earnings and debt outcomes compare to other institutions. (/recep-bg)A new report allows users to search specific colleges, majors and degree programs to see how earnings and debt outcomes compare to other institutions. (/recep-bg)

Higher degree attainment does not always lead to higher salaries, a new report has found.

While 22% of workers earning $30,000- to $60,000-a-year have a bachelor’s degree, 27% have only a high school diploma, according to “Buyer Beware: First-Year Earnings and Debt for 37,000 College Majors at 4,400 Institutions” from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

However, higher levels of education do not always equate to more debt.

While associate’s degrees are generally more affordable, some graduates with A.A.’s wind up with higher student loan payments than do students with bachelor’s and master’s degrees, the report found.


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Also, first-year earnings for the same degree and major can vary by $80,000 at different colleges, the research showed.

The report allows users to search specific colleges, majors and degree programs to see how earnings and debt outcomes compare to other institutions.

Here are four key findings from the report:

  • 44% of bachelor’s degree programs lead to first-year earnings between $4,000 and $8,000 per month ($48,000-$96,000 per year), but so do 10% of associate’s degree programs.
  • The 10 programs with the highest first-year earnings net of debt payments are almost all graduate degrees in dentistry and nursing.
  • 49% of graduates with monthly earnings net of federal student loan debt payments from $3,001 to $4,000 are from bachelor’s degree programs; 31% are from master’s degree programs; and 11% are from associate’s degree programs.
  • Overall, 309 bachelor’s degree programs lead to higher monthly federal student loan payments than the median for master’s degree programs, and 922 associate’s degree programs lead to higher monthly federal student loan payments than the median for bachelor’s degree programs.

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A separate report finds that college-age workers, particularly Black and Latinx young people, have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic recession.

The unemployment rate for workers ages 16-to-24 jumped from 8.4%  in spring 2019 to 24.4% from spring 2020, compared to a 2.8% to 11.3% jump for workers over 25. These numbers were even higher for Black and Latinx workers, according to the report from the Economic Policy Institute.

One reason for these figures is that about one in four young workers are employed in leisure and hospitality, where employment plummeted by 41% between February and May 2020.

The report also found that young workers were the least likely to be able to work from home.