According to a recent analysis of how much college graduates earn, computer science is the most lucrative undergraduate major. Michael Itzkowitz, founder and CEO of the HEA group and former director of the College Scorecard, analyzed the earnings of the graduates of more than 36,000 undergraduate degree programs using data from the most recently updated College Scorecard.
The analysis depicts the four-year median earnings of graduates from 22,404 bachelor’s, 8,071 associate’s, and 5,622 certificate programs. To safeguard student privacy, the data are limited to students who received federal financial aid, and earnings data from a few small programs are excluded from the analysis.
The Happy News
Within four years of graduation, graduates from 23,588 (roughly two-thirds) of the 36,096 programs with available earnings data earn at least $40,000 annually on average.
The Poor News
At nearly 5,000 (4,723) undergraduate programs, the majority of graduates earned less than $30,000 annually, and the median annual earnings for 1,010 programs were below $20,000. According to Itkowitiz, “time and money spent on these programs will inevitably result in financial strain for students, with limited to no economic return.”
Type of Degree Is Crucial
While much has been written about the economic value of short-term certificate programs in recent years, the data from the Scorecard indicate that the BA/BS degree remains the credential with the highest early-career economic returns.
Eighty percent of bachelor’s degree programs had graduates with a median annul income of at least $40,000 four years after graduation, and nearly all bachelor’s degree programs had graduates earning at least $30,000 annually.
50% of the programs at the associate’s degree level had graduates earning at least $40,000 annually, and 83% of the programs had graduates earning at least $30,000.
31% of certificate programs had graduates earning a median salary of $40,000 or more, and 54% of certificate programs had graduates earning a median salary of at least $30,000.
At the level of individual programs, computer science majors had the highest median salaries on average. Eight of the ten bachelor’s programs whose graduates earned at least $200,000 per year four years after graduation were in computer science or computer engineering. These programs were located at Harvard University (1), the California Institute of Technology (2), Carnegie Mellon University (3), the University of Pennsylvania (4), Princeton University (5), Brown University (6), Yale University (8), and Stanford University (10) in that order.
The other two disciplines with median earnings exceeding $200,000 were finance at the University of Pennsylvania (7) and electrical, electronic, and communications engineering at the University of California, Berkeley.
Sixteen of the top twenty programs by median income were in computer science or computer engineering. After four years, graduates of over 400 baccalaureate programs earned median incomes of $100,000 or more.
Nuclear engineering technologies at Bismarck State College, nuclear engineering technologies at Onondaga Community College, allied health at Foothill College, nursing at Contra Costa College, and physical science technologies at Brazosport College were the highest-paying majors at the associate’s degree level.
The electrical and power transmission installer program at SOWELA Technical Community College, health and medical preparation at Mills College, nursing at Cabrillo College, electrical and power transmission installer program at Texas State Technical College, and electromechanical instrumentation and maintenance program at Perry Technical Institute were the top five certificate majors with median earnings exceeding $99,000.