Hot Majors at Community Colleges
One lasting benefit of this recession may be the greatly improved linkage between employers and colleges that now provide much more precise information to students seeking fruitful, long-lasting jobs when they graduate.
Whether a new college student or a laid-off worker seeking to enhance skills before re-entering an unforgiving job market, there’s a wealth of useful data to plot a long-range career path.
“Many people don’t have the luxury of learning for learning’s sake,” says Norma Kent, vice president of communications for the American Association of Community Colleges. “As the recession became more pronounced, there was much more of a strategic workforce emphasis, for new students or those seeking to reinvent themselves.”
The nation’s 1,200 community colleges have seen double-digit enrollment increases in the past three years, now serving 12 million students, she says. And, finally, there’s better news awaiting grads.
For the first time since 2007, the National Association of Colleges and Employers reports a double-digit increase in spring hiring projections. NACE’s 2011 Job Outlook Spring Update showed a planned increase in hiring of 13.5 percent for this year’s crop of new graduates.
“In 2011, employers are much more optimistic,” says Edwin Koc, NACE’s director of strategic research. “Business was better, and management seems to have taken the lid off hiring. They’re beginning to work the talent pipeline again.”
Twice a year, NACE surveys its 900 member employers and 1,800 colleges and universities to come up with a list of top-paying college majors and their corresponding average salary offers.
Four of the top five for this summer are engineering professions: petroleum ($80,849), chemical($65,618), computer ($65,618) and mining and mineral ($63,969). The fifth is computer science ($63,402).
“As I look at the current job market, I see more companies looking for students with technical skills,” Koc says. “The market is clearly better for grads with computer science, engineering, accountants, economics majors."
The job picture not as encouraging right now for education, English or general liberal arts grads, he added, but that’s likely to change before long.
“The longer-term prospects for students studying education or liberal arts are good. Educational categories right now are showing an extremely bad market," says Koc.
But the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recently listed the occupations with the most job openings through 2018 for those with a bachelor’s degree.
Elementary school teachers topped the list (597,000), with high-school teachers third (412,000) and middle-school teachers fourth (251,000).
“It depends on how long you want to wait,” Koc said. “There’s no marketplace for (teachers) until governments get revenue back. Private sector is what’s hiring.”
It’s important to note, especially for non-engineering students, that the highest-paying college majors are the hardest fields of study for people to stick with, said Jeff Strohl, director of research at Georgetown University’s Center on Education and theWorkforce.
“To succeed as a petroleum engineer, it takes certain values and tradeoffs," he says. "You have to be willing to spend much of your work life in a lab.”
“Our most popular majors are not necessarily the highest paying,” Strohl adds. “People are not always after money.”
Strohl co-authored a recent report, "What's it Worth," which outlines in great detail the average wage returns to specific college majors.
The top five with the highest median earnings: petroleum engineer ($120,000); pharmacy ($105,000); mathematics and computer sciences ($98,000); aerospace engineering ($87,000) and chemical engineering ($86,000).
- See Slideshow of Top-Ten on The List
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The five majors with the lowest median earnings: counseling/psychology ($29,000); early childhood education ($36,000); theology and religious vocations ($38,000); human services and community organizations ($38,000) and social work ($39,000).