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Was studying worth it? The university degrees with the highest (and lowest) unemployment rates

Elizabeth Bromstein|

Some folks have been questioning the value of a university degree lately. Particularly an undergrad. Does it really pay to get one? After all, if everyone has one, and they really do crank those things out, then what’s it worth?

Personally, I think that, in certain areas, we could be moving away from the everyone- must-go-to-university mindset and towards more individualized education models and apprenticeships. The current backlash against unpaid internships makes the latter a potentially unpopular idea, but a shift in the playing field might not necessarily be a bad move.

Georgetown University has, however, released a report suggesting that, for the time being, it still pays to earn a degree. “As we recovered from the recession during 2010 and 2011,” reads the report, “college graduates fared better than less educated workers.

Overall unemployment rates during this period were 9-10 percent for non-college graduates compared to 4.6 – 4.7 percent for college graduates 25 years of age or older.”

(Of course, the university degree might not be the only variable here and the report doesn’t really prove a causal relation. It is, naturally, in Georgetown University’s best interest to show that it pays to get a university degree. I’m not saying the claim is wrong. I’m just saying know your source).

The report also looks at the degrees with the highest and lowest unemployment rates. And some of the findings are surprising, at least to me. For example, I would have thought that majoring in information systems would be a good idea. I would have been wrong.

In the computers and mathematics areas, information systems had the highest unemployment rate at 14.7 %. Computer science majors fared better with 8.7% unemployment, while mathematics majors were sitting prettier at 5.9%. The outlook got better in these and in all areas with job experience and graduate degrees. As did earnings.

In the arts, the lowest unemployment was among those with degrees in drama and theatre arts, at 6.4%. Wait…what!? Yes. It’s true. Meanwhile, the highest unemployment was in the film, video, and photographic arts (11.4%) and, surprisingly (again, to me, anyway), commercial art and graphic design (10.5%). This was followed by fine arts (10.1%).

Among the social sciences, there were high unemployment rates in economics (10.4%), political science, government (11.1%), and sociology (9.9%). (It bears noting, however, that graduate degree holders in economics were among the highest earners).

In the humanities and liberal arts, anthropology and archaeology fared worst with 12.6% unemployment. English and literature majors scored 9% and 9.8% unemployment, respectively. These were followed by history, philosophy and religious studies at 9.5% each. Liberal Arts and foreign languages majors had the lowest unemployment rates at 8.1%, which is still pretty high.

Overall, the degrees with the lowest unemployment were as follows:

    Nursing: 4.8%
    Elementary education: 5.0%
    Physical fitness, parks & recreation: 5.2%
    Chemistry: 5.8%
    Finance: 5.9%

And the degrees with the highest unemployment rates were as follows:

    Information systems: 14.7%
    Architecture: 12.8%
    Anthropology: 12.6%
    Film, video and photography arts: 11.4%
    Political science: 11.1%

Health majors, including medical technologies and treatment therapy professions, had the lowest overall unemployment, in the 2%-3% range. And pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences were the highest earners, with “experienced college graduates” earning $180,000. Engineers also did pretty well in the money department.

If you want to know how your major holds up, or are considering a degree, you can read the full report.


Category: Career Dilemmas, Student,
 
  • Barry

    NO one will hire you without a university degree, but once you have it your chances of being hired are still close to single digits.

    The “learning” may be irrelevant, but no company will hire someone based on knowledge or skills alone, you must have the piece of paper to back it up.

    If we define employed as more then minimum wage, full time and health coverage, what are the true numbers, film video and photography is much more then 11.4%, try quadrupling that or more

    How many nurses work on contract, with unemployment looming in 6 months?

    Chemistry graduates unemployable without 5 years experience, if the unemployment rate is truly 5.8%, then 10 years plus experience people must be close to zero and less then 5 years is close to 50% and its somehow averaging to 5.8%

    • michael

      Most jobs will accept knowledge and skills in place of a degree. Just because you have a piece of paper, so what! Its worth NOTHING and doesn’t prove your skilled in that area! There are Doctors in this world that are complete idiots, yet they have a piece of paper to say their qualified, ROFL! Barry your a moron!!

      • ARecentGrad

        Barry is not a moron, Michael, that’s not nice.
        And Michael – while it certainly is easier to get a job with a degree + knowledge and skills, many companies have and will continue to hire people without degrees but who have the skills needed.

        Piece of paper certainly makes things easier, though.

    • Laurie Perras

      I have to reply to this post, as I completely disagree with you. I just got hired today, and I do NOT have a university degree. I will be making more than minimum wage($38,000 to start), will have health benefits in 3 months, full company pension in 1 year, and a 2% bonus yearly. AND, I am going in as an ENTRY LEVEL shipping clerk! I just finished a 10 week Inventory Control/Warehousing program and this is my first time working in this industry. I also worked with the provincial gov’t from 1986 to 2004 in the administration field, working my way up from a Clerk I file clerk to an Admin Support VI, which is the highest non-mgmt grade you can be. I was making $25/hour when I left in ’04. SO, I say to you – YOU ARE WRONG. You CAN get good work without a university degree.

      • Sandra

        Let me know how that works out for you 2,3,4 years from now. You will always be the subbordinate of someone educated and trained.
        It sounds like you have spent the last 25 yrs trying to find a “career”, if you had an education, this would not be your plight.

      • GOLD FORCE

        i love you

  • Glen

    Do these same figures apply in Canada, are they relatively close? or are there some drastic differences? I would really question the education stat for sure.

  • Dave

    Barry, I have to disagree, I was born in the 80s and I do not have a university degree and have always found decent senior positions

    • toni

      who’s your daddy bro?

    • Ai Ya

      Because you are old enough to have work experiences. :)

  • Norman

    Imagine all of those years of going to school, college, university hoping to get a better job and finally at the end you cant reach your dreams, all that hard work is worth nothing, the world is turning against the youth.

    • toni

      Norman darling, take heart, the world may be turning against youth, but guess what? the world has already turned against us the older professionals..
      so youths are not getting the jobs and anything over 40 us ‘old’ folks, well HR ‘aint even looking at our resumes anymore..so who’s getting those jobs with a start date of immediate? It disheartening

  • Dem

    Okay, let me point out a few OTHER statistics. 8% unemployment means 92% who earned that degree are EMPLOYED! Why focus on the % who can’t find a job, when so many are? Or am I missing something here? We all KNOW a certain percent of any group either have mental health issues, other unknown life issues or they’re just plain lazy bums that don’t want to work!

    Maybe the percentage unemployed don’t know how to market themselves? Who knows? A better study would be to get in touch with those in that very low percentile and ASK them why they can’t find work in the field they studied in.

    • tuyennguyencanada

      I like your positive thinking, a lot !

    • Lab

      Looking at the glass half full as oppose to being half empty… I like that, really good stuff! But what good is optimism when you can’t see a half full glass just because you lack 5years experience?

      Laziness has nothing to do with unemployed individuals being in the low percentile… And we’re talking about those with their recognized credentials. Why would someone spend all that time studying and upon completion comes out not wanting to reap the benefits of their hard work?

      There is certainly no remedy for someone who doesn’t want to work, but kindly reveal the secret of obtaining 5 + years of experience in 7 days!!!

      • ARecentGrad

        Whatever happened to doing relevant things that get you experience while you’re in school? Do an internship, volunteer for a related association, start a club, do a personal project, etc etc etc. Anything to stand out from the crowd of “I have a degree and that’s it”. Related experience doesn’t have to be official employment. I was hired while I was still in university based on my personal projects, demonstrated skills, and club involvement and leadership.

        • Lab

          And with all that said, may I ask what is your profession?

          • ARecentGrad

            I personally have it easier than most – I work in marketing – but the above can be applied to many other fields as well.

          • Lab

            The same point I was getting at lol… Not a lot are presented with the opportunities you were; however, you do have some really good self marketing strategies.

          • ARecentGrad

            I think the opportunities exist in many fields, especially if you look for them. Too bad most programs don’t tell their students that they exist, are important, and should be used to get employment advantage when you do graduate.

      • toni

        Interesting dialogue, but I had to put my 2/cents in….I have 5+ years employable experience, I am bilingual, I am a University grad (now pursuing a technical trade) I am DEFINITELY not lazy and I am un-employed….for 2/years I have been seeking employment in any field…so how do we decode that? 5+years experience means, I am too old, subtly disguised as ‘overqualified’ 5 less years experience means you inexperienced for the job…where do we draw the line, who’s getting the jobs….I still think it’s not what you know, it’s who know you…and who you know….A damn shame…

        • ARecentGrad

          In your case – networking, networking, networking, I’d say. You’re right, sometimes its all about who you know. And if you don’t know anyone? Introduce yourself. Contact HR managers of companies you like on Linked In, take them out for coffee, and ask questions to get to know the company. If they like you, that can lead to a job easily. I’d had friends get everything from on the spot job offers to resume requests to offers of mentorship using this method. Best of luck to you in whatever you do! :)

          • toni

            Thank You so much for your encouraging words…and although I can not afford to be a pess’ or a pessimist, my ‘difficult- to- prove- at a Human Rights’ tribunal is that I am over 40 aka, old fart….
            Thanks again you’re very motivating. Bless ya

          • toni

            Recent Grad, another part of the equation is, my observation has steered me to conclude that here in Ontario, a great percentage of ‘John Public’ is intimidated by anything/anyone who seems even remotely above average intelligence and/or seems a bit more qualified. Do the math… and even though I have functioned at management’s level, I am more a mentoring type, finds no gain in pushing people around because of status or degree, or intelligence…but still, add to that I speak another language! my goose is burnt…somebody is going to be losing sleep that I may take their job….and hell no if HR lets that happen…you feel me?

          • Strong

            Overqualified is a word I heard time and time again as an IT Consultant for over 20 years. And for the jobs I was offered, the pay an workload did not quite match up. So as my contract with the TTC IT department was coming to an abrupt end, as they outsourced the crew of 8 down to 2, to another country, I applied for driver position (with a very dumbed down resume) and got the job. It’s been 2 years now and I love it. Pay is less then my IT work, but benefits are insane. No office poli-tricks or backstabbing. Just drive the bus and be nice to the public, no matter what. TTC is hiring like crazy right now, so if you like driving and like people, consider applying. Yes, it might not be in your field, but if you want something secure, this is it. Look for jobs that cannot be outsourced, because companies will always look to cover the bottom line and there are talented people all over the world, willing to work for less than you do.

            Good luck in your search, everyone.

          • toni

            GoodMorning: Thanks for the heads-up and the encouragement…such an appropriate handle ‘Strong’
            Thanks a lot..truly appreciate you and the info…Do you mind sharing the site you went on to submit your CV…or is it simply TTC.com Trust me I am from the age where we embrace the 1/2 of loaf wisdom…and I thought I was the only one who used the ‘poli-TRICKS’ line….I don’t know if there are still ppl..out there looking for (or getting) jobs in ‘Their Field’ anymore…With my experience and management skills, Strong -I apply to WallMart and Home Depot….Do the math….nice day

          • toni

            Strong,Grad,Marc,Lab and my fellow intelligent bloggers…I thought I might share Tudor’s input….It speaks to his University (higher level) ability to deal with the most minor of issues…Read on..I will not warrant his communicative ignorance with an answer. He corroborates my point to the letter. He just issued his own prescription without knowledge of the symptom or the problem…This is his input:

            Tudor • an hour ago

            You sound like an gen x or baby-boomer. Tiime to move over old man, let the arrogant Gen Y-ers take over. Guess what, we can do in a day what you do in a week, and I’m not even limiting myself to any particular industry. You think all we learn in university or post-university degrees is just theory?? If so, you clearly need to get some credits under your belt. As a young entrepreneur, somewhat successful, I would much rather a young, hungry, and ambitious-as-***** punk than an grumpy older person who like to do things “as they’ve always been done”. If I ever apply for a position and the interviewer does not explicitly state that the company is innovative, I bounce like a nerf ball.

          • ARecentGrad

            I’ve seen the problem of overqualification many times as well. It is unfortunate – but there’s reasons for that as well. Raises unnecessary questions in their minds… Its a matter of tailoring what you’ve done for the job you’re going for. If you know you’re overqualified – remove the bits of your resume that make you look *too* good.

            Haha at least I think that’s what you’re talking about here. :)

          • toni

            Yes Sir: you are right on the $$$ mula. I have sliced my CV to a low fat, no sodium, low experience diet so many submissions, there is nothing left to trim without having to explain (if I did jail time:)).. another part of the equation is, my observation has steered me to conclude that here in Ontario, a great percentage of ‘John Public’ is intimidated by anything/anyone who seems even remotely above average intelligence and/or seems a bit more qualified. Do the math… and even though I have functioned at management’s level, I am more a mentoring type, finds no gain in pushing people around because of status or degree, or intelligence…but still, add to that I speak another language! my goose is burnt…somebody is going to be losing sleep that I may take their job….and hell no if HR lets that happen…you feel me?

          • Maco

            Very well said! Those who got their jobs by some other criteria other than merit will always fear people who have what it takes…

          • Maco

            Wow!! What a recipe for corruption…What if they don’t like you? Why should it be about “them” liking you and not the best woman/man getting the job? No wonder Canada is such a redundant, corrupt country…..

        • Lab

          I couldn’t have said it better! And I guess the line is drawn exactly where the answer lies for the question ‘who is getting the job?’

          • ARecentGrad

            In most cases, I think its the person who has done that exact job, somewhere else but in the same industry, for the longest time and with the best provable results.

          • Lab

            Ok you seem to have a lot of answers. I wan to take YOU out for some coffee, how about it? After all your in marketing and you seem to have some tangible result oriented strategies; therefore you might be able to help me market me.

          • ARecentGrad

            Hahaha I’m not sure if you’re being sarcastic here. If you’re not – email me, and we can chat (bausman480@hotmail.com). If you are, ignore that then. :P

          • Lab

            Lol check your inbox

          • toni

            and remember me guys, if you hear of anything at this point anything.

          • ARecentGrad

            What is your industry, Toni? What are you looking for/where has your past experience been?

          • toni

            I have been in Aviation. CPP PMAC certified. Procurement and Project Coordinator for Aviation (simulators) Engineering projects. Top performer 5/yrs in a row.Was really good @ what I did. Loved my job. Worked with 2 of the most renowned airlines, but aviation jobs has a shelf life…I am now studying in the Criminal Justice field.

            Thanks Grad.
            Bless you again. May the kindness you are sending around, come back multiplied.

          • toni

            Grad,Marc,Lab and my fellow intelligent bloggers…I thought I might share Tudor’s input….It speaks to his University (higher level) ability to deal with the most minor of issues…Read on..I will not warrant his communicative ignorance with an answer. He corroborates my point to the letter. He just issued his own prescription without knowledge of the symptom or the problem…This is his input:

            Tudor • an hour ago

            You sound like an gen x or baby-boomer. Tiime to move over old man, let the arrogant Gen Y-ers take over. Guess what, we can do in a day what you do in a week, and I’m not even limiting myself to any particular industry. You think all we learn in university or post-university degrees is just theory?? If so, you clearly need to get some credits under your belt. As a young entrepreneur, somewhat successful, I would much rather a young, hungry, and ambitious-as-***** punk than an grumpy older person who like to do things “as they’ve always been done”. If I ever apply for a position and the interviewer does not explicitly state that the company is innovative, I bounce like a nerf ball.

          • toni

            I don’t think Lab is sarcastic at all..it’s just a different personality. Thanks for reaching out Recent Grad…You will be rewarded..

          • toni

            Hey Lab:
            I could have more /less answered my own ?, you know the one that is plaguing us both (and I am sure the rest of us un-employed) I was at a job fair quite recently at a service employment centre . A job posting came in from an Employer. It was for an Admin position paying between 15 and 19$/hr. When the receptionist was about to place it on the job opportunity bulletin board one of the ‘big cheese’ from the department told her not to post it; but just give it to her (the big cheese) bc the position had already been filled.
            So me being in the predicament I am, and an advocate for others in my situation, I asked the obvious question ‘How is this position already filled if it has not yet been posted..I asked to whom was this job promised ?…well the rest is history? too long to explain the direction my question led to and the mess that followed…that should shed some light on the corruption that’s robbing the rest of us an equal opportunity…enough said…

            .

          • ARecentGrad

            I think the stat I heard is that 80-85% of job opportunities are not advertised. They are filled either internally, or through referrals and connections. I’m guessing that’s what you saw there.

            Its not equal opportunity. Its also not corruption – its the company using their resources smartly. Good for you for going to job fairs though. :D

          • toni

            right on the money again with the 80-85% stats…but this was the employment center,not a private company. The Employment’s Centre job is to post all mandates sent to them by Employers, not to hoard it for their friends and family Give everyone an equal opportunity.

          • Maco

            FYI it is corruption (except in a retrogressive country like Canada, where it has been normalized). It is nepotism and/or favoritism to be specific; go and look it up in a dictionary……

        • Ai Ya

          I have university degree, I am a visible minority, I am a woman, and I have 5 years banking experiences. The bank doesn’t treat me fairly. I have to go (even I was a top performer every year). I go back to school again and look for oil and gas job. So what, I am unemployed almost a year now. On and off….temporary jobs…high school graduate’s jobs…that is the reality…Even entry level requires 1-3 year experiences, where I can get those experiences if no one hire me for the first time.

  • wayne

    I read in the local newspaper that Oshawa unemployment rate for this age group was well into the 20′s…all in number, regardless of education. Mileage varies.. a lot, depending on where you are. Underemployment is also a serious issue, rarely tackled by the statisticians. Like how many people paid 50kor more for school, and are not employed in their field! Lots. Lack of apprenticeships is a huge problem for the trades students. Obviously not the subject of this article, but our young people face a lot of hurdles finding work that supports them, and their young families with something approaching a living wage.

  • Marc

    I got an Engineering Degree 8 years ago, and what I realized is that just because you have an University education, that doesn’t mean that a job is going to fall right in your lap. I spent about a year searching jobs online and sending almost 1000 resumes out in my last year at school. No one was interested in talking to me unless I had 3 to 5 years experience. I even did the Co-op program accumulating to 1 year of experience before I graduated, and that still wasn’t enough to spark interest in potential employers. After I finally did get a job, I realized that I learned nothing in school and the learning only began when I started working. So I found it requires a lot of work to get that first job, and it’s not easy by any means. On top of that I’m not doing work that I imagined or wanted to be doing back when I was in school, but it all works out in the end when you get experience and get good at what you do. Since then I’ve moved companies 4 times and what I realized getting a job is 99% WHO you know, and then WHAT you know keeps you at your job, although sometimes unfortunate things happen that are beyond your control as I’ve experienced first hand. Something people thinking of going to University have to realize is that it is a HUGE expense if you have to pay for it yourself and it takes a long time to pay it off. I’ve been paying my debts for 8 years and will be still for a while. I think it’s important to have somewhat of an idea of what you want to do with your education before you jump into it.

    • toni

      Marc; I can take communion after reading your input. Man that was the gospel truth. Kudos for being more brazen than I am to actually tell the truth about the actual % of getting a job depends on who you know…and I bowed and saluted you on your following statement..”I realized that I learned nothing in school and the learning only began when I started working” so as good and important as it may be to have this very expensive University doc…it means diddly squat, paralleled to (or without) experience.

    • toni

      Grad,Marc,Lab and my fellow intelligent bloggers…I thought I might share Tudor’s input….It speaks to his University (higher level) ability to deal with the most minor of issues…Read on..I will not warrant his communicative ignorance with an answer. He corroborates my point to the letter. He just issued his own prescription without knowledge of the symptom or the problem…This is his input:

      Tudor • an hour ago

      You sound like an gen x or baby-boomer. Tiime to move over old man, let the arrogant Gen Y-ers take over. Guess what, we can do in a day what you do in a week, and I’m not even limiting myself to any particular industry. You think all we learn in university or post-university degrees is just theory?? If so, you clearly need to get some credits under your belt. As a young entrepreneur, somewhat successful, I would much rather a young, hungry, and ambitious-as-***** punk than an grumpy older person who like to do things “as they’ve always been done”. If I ever apply for a position and the interviewer does not explicitly state that the company is innovative, I bounce like a nerf ball.

  • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.burt.397 Stephen Burt

    Ok. My father ran a 10 + million dollar construction project. My father didn’t even finish school. The big wigs of the company sent a new young graduate ” all his papers for construction” down to check out the project. My father said he knew a lot from books and was very smart but did not know his head from his _____ when it came to work on the sight. He would never hire someone without experience behind him, because they are useless to him on the construction sight. Papers are good but not without the work experience behind them.

    • toni

      I am for everyone, but seriously, these grads have been misinformed and misled to believing that as soon they show up with this piece of paper,a mightier than thou attitude and a fat ego, that the show begins…well sadly but truly, they have book sense but absolutely no common sense. They have no sense of organization, very little (if any at all) customer skills…Bluff a lot and BS their way around trying to convince us old veterans that they know what they doing….

      • Tudor

        You sound like an gen x or baby-boomer. Tiime to move over old man, let the arrogant Gen Y-ers take over. Guess what, we can do in a day what you do in a week, and I’m not even limiting myself to any particular industry. You think all we learn in university or post-university degrees is just theory?? If so, you clearly need to get some credits under your belt. As a young entrepreneur, somewhat successful, I would much rather a young, hungry, and ambitious-as-***** punk than an grumpy older person who like to do things “as they’ve always been done”. If I ever apply for a position and the interviewer does not explicitly state that the company is innovative, I bounce like a nerf ball.

  • Ron

    What these surveys point to are general trends that vary over time just as the need for various professions will over time. I happen to have studied accounting up to a high level and probably would have carried on from the diploma studies had I ever received a job offer. Hundreds of on line applications later after volunteering as a Treasurer at a large charity in Ottawa, I have pretty well had to pack it in so that I could put bread on the table and pay for rent. Other people, younger than myself, were hired even before finishing school. Age discrimination led to 25-minute interviews and I knew without anything being said that they just wanted someone younger. After graduating in 2009, the job search has begun to look futile. I am not planning to start my own business on the side than to compete against 200 individuals in every open Internet competition.

    • toni

      Ron, it’s exactly what I said earlier (and what everyone our age is also saying) age discrim…is very much alive and active…but proving it at a Human Right’s tribunal, is a whole game of scrabbles. Pls. tell me how do you get someone under 30 with 5+years experience + a University degree? The math doesn’t ad up….It’s very sad.

  • Gamini Dodan

    Whether you have a degree or not (with minimum qualifications), most of the time, in Canada, only the hiring manager/s’ KITH and KIN are hired even they run ads to show off and cheat the world that they are fair. This is specially true for public agencies (public universities, colleges etc are the worst !! yet they preach !!!). They do everything to safeguard themselves, and affected ones cannot prove this as those cunning hiring managers are so cunning.

    • toni

      Gam:
      Recruiting agencies are the absolute worst. They lie, they post mandates they do not have, the deceive, they send you for interviews that they know will never materialize into anything tangible. I do believe there is a legislation that jobs MUST be posted externally for whatever reason…but by the time the job is externally posted, yes the hiring manager’s dumb ass son/daughter has filed and changed her nail polish at the desk every day for the past 3 months, or better still is on their 2nd, 3-weeks vacation or sick leave.

  • Tudor

    What a low-quality article. It doesn’t specify if these employees have been hired in their field or not. For example, those with drama and theatre degress are majoritarily employed in fields other than their own (also known as flipping burgers and the less common data-entry positions). Computer science majors simply hold out for a position that pays them what they’re worth, which is much more than arts majors (I’m in accounting, by the way). Therefore, knowing that you’re worth a lot more will make you delay employment until a satisfactory job comes along, whereas if you’re in theatre, just cut your losses, admit you’ve studied for ‘fun’ not for a salary, and enjoy life while you’re still young, you know it’s only downhill from there.

  • Michael Scott

    If I were considering hiring you, Barry, I’d like to see you write the sentence as “If we define employed as more THAN minimum wage”…….not more THEN!

  • Judith McLean

    some surprising results.
    However, univ. degrees don’t always mean transferrable /essential skills like CRITICAL THINKING, EFFECTIVE PROBLEM SOLVING, LEADING TEAMS, Try for co-op options and ask managers to stretch you in these areas.