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Education The Almighty Buck Science

What's Your STEM Degree Worth? 148

Posted by samzenpus
from the doing-the-math dept.
Jim_Austin writes A recent study by economist Douglas Webber calculates the lifetime earnings premium of college degrees in various broad areas, accounting for selection bias--that is, for the fact that people who already are likely to do well are also more likely to go to college. These premiums are not small. Science Careers got exclusive access to major-specific data, and published an article that tells how much more you can expect to earn because you got that college degree--for engineering, physics, computer science, chemistry, and biology majors.
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What's Your STEM Degree Worth?

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  • More than I paid for it - zero dollars.
    • Re:My phd? (Score:4, Informative)

      by xxxJonBoyxxx (565205) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @10:24PM (#47321083)

      >> My phd?
      No, your STEM undergrad degree, dumbass.

      From TFA: "Webber excluded from his sample people with postgraduate training."

      • by 2.7182 (819680)

        That's strange. I was responding to this part of the article:

        "In another study, Webber considered samples with postgraduate training."

        In any case, my undergraduate math degree cost zero dollars also.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        I've burned through over 1.5 million dollars in a 'STEM' field, with no degree so far. Even 'managed out' two phd's during that time. So anyway, fuck the system, etc.

      • From TFA: "Webber excluded from his sample people with postgraduate training."

        I wonder why: it's very unusual to get a PhD or Masters in STEM without that undergrad degree in STEM as well.

        • Probably because (a) the awful salary numbers for most PhDs skew the numbers in a way that the researchers didn't like, (b) they couldn't find the cardboard boxes postdocs live in to ask them how much they made, or (c) they couldn't find any humanities students who actually completed their PhDs for comparison.

    • A significant portion of the cost of any degree is the opportunity cost. Often it is most of the cost. I'm not saying your PhD was not worth it, but it is disingenuous to say it was free.

      • by 2.7182 (819680)
        Then how does one put a dollar value on that? In addition you need to offset that with what I was paid as a research assistant each year.
        • by ranton (36917)

          Obviously not every cost can be given an exact price; just take the value of customer satisfaction as an example. But it isn't that hard to come out with a rough approximation when it comes to a college degree.

          Simply calculate what you could have reasonably made without a college degree to come up with the true cost. For instance, I was making $13 an hour working as a low level network admin in the summer after high school in 1998. This is obviously a very high wage for that level of education, but it goes

    • Would someone who actually has a Ph.D. refer to it as a "phd"?
  • by houstonbofh (602064) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @10:17PM (#47321035)
    I was hoping it would show the fields and the difference, such as between CompSci with and without degree. Not. It is CompSci degree vs Burger King? Well, duh...
    • at least a job at the king does not need an 50-100K+ loan to get in.

    • by msauve (701917)
      You you really want them to average in tech workers without degrees, like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg?
      • by erice (13380)

        You you really want them to average in tech workers without degrees, like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg?

        Why not? High income dropouts are so few that they make little difference in the result, especially if you do your statistics right and report the median rather than arithmetic mean.

        • by mini me (132455) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @11:32PM (#47321441)

          High income dropouts are so few that they make little difference in the result

          Actually, dropouts and those who did not pursue college at all outnumber those with only a bachelor degree [gallup.com] in the high earning category. Those with postgraduate degrees are the ones who really skew the numbers.

          • by fractoid (1076465)
            You need to separately classify people who dropped out in order to pursue more lucrative opportunities, and people who dropped out for other reasons.

            Bill Gates didn't drop out of college to bum around and smoke weed, he did it because he and Paul Allen had just scored a supply contract for Altair BASIC.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      FTFA:

      The worst STEM majors earn more than the best high school graduates. Those in the bottom quintile of ability who go on to major in STEM have lifetime earnings of about $2.3 million, compared to $2 million for high school graduates in the top quintile of ability; business majors do slightly worse than STEM majors. The worst social science majors earn about the same as the best high school graduates, and the worst arts and humanities majors earn less.

      Full time salaried job versus burger flipper - yes, that's what the degree gives you.

      • Full time salaried job versus burger flipper
        A lot of policemen, career military, plumbers,firemen,sanitation workers,postmen/women,secretaries, dentists assistants etc. too. Some of these fields pay pretty well. The Burger flipper vs salaried job difference is easy to calculate($10 an hour vs $20+ an hour), but high school vs college does need a paper.
      • by neurovish (315867)

        FTFA:

        The worst STEM majors earn more than the best high school graduates. Those in the bottom quintile of ability who go on to major in STEM have lifetime earnings of about $2.3 million, compared to $2 million for high school graduates in the top quintile of ability; business majors do slightly worse than STEM majors. The worst social science majors earn about the same as the best high school graduates, and the worst arts and humanities majors earn less.

        Full time salaried job versus burger flipper - yes, that's what the degree gives you.

        Why does "best high school graduate" mean burger flipper? There are plenty of trades that pay a good wagw where you will get ahead easier by putting in your time learning the trade than going to college. A lineman can pull down 6 figures, also plumbers, electricians, etc. "no college" doesn't mean "completely unskilled". Most of these jobs will be a straight 40 hours/week and done, so they are coming out ahead of a similarly paid computer scientist working 60 hour weeks.

    • by monstza (1549007)

      What about how much a spending an extra $20 000 to go to a well known university actually equates to in salary..

      Would people's parents be better off just putting that money in an investment account? I would suspect so...

    • by Anonymous Coward

      http://www9.georgetown.edu/grad/gppi/hpi/cew/pdfs/whatsitworth-complete.pdf

      see also

      http://news.slashdot.org/story/11/05/30/1554235/Whats-Your-College-Major-Worth
      "The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that with tuition rising and a weak job market everyone seems to be debating the value of a college degree. Anthony P. Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, says talking about the bachelor's degree in general doesn't make a whole lot of sense, because its fi

      • I wonder if the $120,000 for petroleum-engineering is not due more to the fact that the jobs tend to be located in harsh climates and remote locations. Yes, the waitresses working in a North Dakota boom town might not be pulling in big bucks, but might in fact be a guy as few women feel safe in these towns. I hear that these rough neck natural gas sites tend to be lawless and full of hidden surprises & toxic spills and fire hazards. I don't know if you will find the girl you want to marry there, if y
    • They all do that. These studies look at job postings and say, "Ah, you will get this job only if you have the BS Degree!" I have that job with no degree.

      They also fail to account for time spent in school not working, versus career development by experience. After 4 years of entry work, you're nearly on par with a degree-holding entrant in most fields. Extremely specialized fields--paralegal, medical--excepted; engineering does have entry jobs, and they send you to school if they want to advance you.

    • by Wycliffe (116160)

      I was hoping it would show the fields and the difference, such as between CompSci with and without degree. Not. It is CompSci degree vs Burger King? Well, duh...

      The data you're wanting is mostly there. They are calling it the "ability premium".
      You should basically be able to look at the difference between the "corrected" and "uncorrected" values
      to get a general idea of what a degree is actually worth in a given field.

      The "corrected" is "this is how much the degree is worth if we take in to account that some people able to get a degree don't".

    • I began college with 1 year of microcomputers and switched to Applied Arts. I didn't think computers were ready for prime time but shortly after I finished college windows 3.0 was released and computers were suddenly in every other household. I tried my hand at teaching for a year and then went to work at pc company that I won't name and started at the very bottom {tech support}. Followed by a couple dsl providers, then telecom, and now I'm a developer.

  • Biased source? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @10:36PM (#47321145)
    At the risk of using an ad hominem fallacy, a university professor personally benefits when people choose to attend college. An economist at a university should recuse himself from issuing reports that encourage people to contribute to his pension fund.
    • by jafac (1449)

      In general, economists are not well known for recusing, or otherwise following ethical practices which are standard in other fields. The least ethical, are the ones at the top, and those are the people who run our economy. And this is why we can't have nice things.

    • Who's supposed to do research that affects researchers, if not researchers?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Even for those in the bottom quartile of 'ability' (people that just limp into college).

    A quick calculation based on this data says that the break-even point in opportunity costs (include any foregone earnings over 30k) is $215k for an undergrad in the humanities and 320k for the social sciences, and $460k if you do anything in a STEM fields.

    So there you go: if your opportunity cost is less than 50K a year any under-grad degree, even if you are are not all that bright, may well pay off.

    We're kind of assumin

    • by aaarrrgggh (9205)

      Not sure if the math is as favorable if you look at the net present value of the incremental earnings. Looking at individuals though, if you are bottom quintile you might be able to get a job that isn't manual labor, arguably improving quality of life. Being a tradesman though likely pays off better.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    He only looks at cohorts in decades following 1955, 65 and 75. Relevance to today's graduates could be zero because the labour market has changed a lot in the last 30 years. Since 1975 average wages haven't even tracked productivity growth.

    As for less income by women, a study in Australia recently found a >10% difference, but correcting for occupation, time in the force and hours worked the difference was reduced to 4.4%.

  • by KermodeBear (738243) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @10:56PM (#47321259) Homepage

    It gives me a paycheck every two weeks but the work is utterly devoid of personal fulfillment. If I had known fifteen years ago what to expect from a career in software I would have spent my time getting a completely different degree.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I wish there were licensed software engineers who had to sign off on certain types of software projects. Similar to other engineering disciplines. People wouldn't push shit through if their license/career was on the line vs upsetting the next level of management which would only place their current job on the line.

      I often wish I'd pursued EE or another of the engineering disciplines rather than CS due to the complete lack of apparent ethics, etc. in many dev shops.

    • That's like most jobs, but not all. Unfortunately, the fulfilling ones tend to pay less. Fortunately, you don't need to go shopping so often to fill that void if you have a fulfilling job.
    • Move up to Project Management. Learn both Waterfall and Agile. You may find that fulfilling, as you'll actually be doing something useful.
      • Well played.

        • Wasn't a joke. The programmers here have no PM. General manager is like, "Do we need 3 people working on this?" "Wasn't this supposed to be done 3 weeks ago?" We have shit to do, and other departments tell us they have hardware and licenses that are available, so we allocate those resources... then, when we get to needing them, they're gone. Or nobody knows if they're gone, but they're not sure if they're available.

          Proper project management would fix this shit. Work performance data would allow pro

  • Our politicians (Obama included) continue to say we need more STEM education. They also continue to expand H1-B visas. What does this mean? It means a hypersaturation of the workforce. This merely reduces the value of the most passionate and educated people in the country. We don't need more STEM. We need more reasons for STEM educated people to exist.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      If our government wanted innovation in the STEM industry, they would repeal Section 1706 of the 1986 Tax Reform Act (some info here [nytimes.com]). This specifically targets IT workers, and makes it basically impossible for them to individually incorporate. This is intended to drive IT professionals to seek to work as employees rather than for themselves (very contrary to the American Dream, of course), but has the net effect of driving talented people out of the industry.

      The government doesn't want a thriving STEM eco

      • Are 'IT Workers' really STEM, though? I thought IT was more like the data janitors. Modern day file clerks. The people who keep the laser printer humming and tell the wire-puller monkeys where to remove the ceiling tiles.

      • For most people, regularized employment beats self-employment and all forms of indirect employment due to economies of scale encountered by an employer.

  • Assuming "lifetime earnings" has the obvious meaning (the actual article is paywalled), the small advantage STEM degrees have in this study is probably more than made up for the loss of a decade of investment and compound interest; it's even worse if you have taken on debt while getting your degree.

    Other studies also concluded that both college and advanced degrees are probably largely break-even financially overall.

    • by AuMatar (183847)

      A decade? A degree is 4 years.

      • by stenvar (2789879)

        With STEM degrees, you usually go on to at least a Master, if not a Ph.D. A college degree in most STEM fields isn't worth much by itself.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          The study would disagree, unless I misread, the study explicitly excluded anyone who had done any postgraduate work.

        • by hambone142 (2551854) on Thursday June 26, 2014 @03:49AM (#47322427)
          I disagree. I worked for one of those "large computer companies". Most of our technical staff had a Bachelor's degree. A few had a Masters. There was zero pay difference between the B.S. degrees and M.S. degrees. It's all based on job performance. Ph.Ds were actually a disadvantage. Most managers stayed away from them because of the perception that they would be "bored" doing normal engineering jobs.
        • by mcmonkey (96054)

          With STEM degrees, you usually go on to at least a Master, if not a Ph.D. A college degree in most STEM fields isn't worth much by itself.

          If only we had a study to contradict that assertion.

          Oh wait, here it is:
          http://news.slashdot.org/story... [slashdot.org]

          =)

      • by asmkm22 (1902712)
        Student loans are typically 10 year repayments.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Take note that the study only looked at undergraduate degrees. Getting a Bachelor's degree in a STEM field opens up a lot of doors for you. However, getting a STEM Ph.D. closes nearly all doors except becoming a researcher or teacher in your field.

    Industry research jobs can pay well, but they tend to be rare relative to the number of Ph.Ds competing for them, not to mention they are often subject to geographic constraints.
    Academic jobs these days require a lifelong vow of poverty.
    Attempts to find a job t

    • Post-graduate degrees can indicate somebody who instead of going out and finding a real job, decided it would be more rewarding to hang out in the labs at the University for a few years. The fortunate Post-grads find gainful work within the University Hive, as they obtain faculty positions. The less fortunate ones have put off coping with the real world for longer than most, and often have priced themselves out of the job market. I've worked with a few Ph.D. engineers before. It often isn't pretty. The

    • by tsqr (808554)

      However, getting a STEM Ph.D. closes nearly all doors except becoming a researcher or teacher in your field.

      I guess it depends on the field. I have a lowly BSEE earned many years ago, but where I work (small aerospace company), you can't walk from your office to the coffee room without tripping over a couple of PhDs. They're not here to teach or to do research.

    • by russotto (537200)

      However, getting a STEM Ph.D. closes nearly all doors except becoming a researcher or teacher in your field.

      Drug companies don't hire biology and chemistry PhDs? Chemical companies don't hire chemistry PhDs? Oil companies don't hire geology PhDs? Tech companies don't hire Computer Science PhDs (there sure seem to be a lot of them around my office if they're not working there)?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    IANAL, I am however a statistician. This exact study has long been considered impossible because there is no good was to quantify the selection bias. The linked article does not explain why this is suddenly possible. I give an 80% chance that the result is bullshit.

  • It bugs me that so many articles about STEM fields leave off mathematics majors.
  • And the geology majors get dissed again...

    But hey... It's a great major for getting your conservative parents to pay for you to go co-ed camping every weekend...

  • by Anonymous Coward

    3.98 GPA and a more awards than you can shake a stick at.... And the only job I could find is with a shitty timeshare marketing company. No degree required for this job.
    Lol.
    FML.
    They should either remove the "M" from STEM or stop telling gullible young smart guys that a STEM degree will lead to a higher paying job.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Why aren't you on Wall Street then? Don't think you're telling us the whole story.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I personally found, if you have ability, managers don't want you. They are concerned more about their ability to rise in the corporate ladder then building a team capable of building a good product. They are scared of individuals who know what they are doing.

    Seen this way too many times for this not to be the norm.

  • My actual numbers (Score:5, Informative)

    by hambone142 (2551854) on Thursday June 26, 2014 @03:41AM (#47322403)
    I went to my Social Security statement and added up my income since I graduated (Electronics Engineering degree (BSEE), 35 yrs. in my career until I retired). I stayed in the technical field (avoided management). The number: $2,727,247 I went to a community college and obtained my general education, later transferring to a state university. I'd estimate my total education cost at around $3K maximum (tuition was a whopping $59.65/qtr. when I graduated in '77). Starting salary was about $1.2k/month. Ending salary was about $10k/month. YMMV
  • Will dumping $80,000 into an educational institution for a piece of paper let me get any sort of semi-stable career?
  • Wow, I really hate looking at life in purely monetary terms. I didn't really think (much) about money when I decided to go to college. I was looking forward to the life experiences; the learning, the discussions with the professors, the companionship, last but not least, the parties.

    It's important to have enough money to get by, beyond that, it's the life experiences that matter, not if your college degree was "worth it" in terms of money lost vs. money gained.

  • and I ain't no damned loch ness monster!

  • by SpeedBump0619 (324581) on Thursday June 26, 2014 @11:37AM (#47324809)

    I got through about 2.5 years of college before I was too poor to continue. I lucked out, got a job doing exactly the type of programming I wanted to do (custom automation control systems) but making next to nothing doing it (about $15k/year). Eventually being poor got old and I took a job with a "real" company making $60k. Six months in they bumped me to $68k and took me on as a full time employee.

    Eventually I went back and finished my degree (BS in Comp Sci). I lost my job at almost the same time I finished the degree (I wasn't willing to move then the company did). That's why I know that the degree gave me a 10-15% bump in pay.

    I learned almost nothing in college about programming. To this day I am of the belief that it is a certificate attesting that when told to do something silly you have the fortitude to actually get it done. Oh, and maybe you have the ability to learn new things...maybe. In the end I'm glad I got it, but only because of what it means to other people. Directly to me it means almost nothing.

  • with probable bankruptcy to boot.

    ----------------

    From:

    http://100rsns.blogspot.com/20... [blogspot.com]

    Another issue with the job markets for STEM and engineering degrees is that there is a lot of involuntary retirement from about age 35-40, in aggregate based primarily on age. Any gains realized up to that point tend to get thwacked pretty hard in the process of readjusting and finding other employment. The point being that majoring in STEM or engineering, and even performing well in STEM or engineering, is no guarantee of anything.

    Many employers really don't know what they are hiring for and frequently have hiring practices counter to their stated wants. In fact, most people making hiring decisions have little to no actual knowledge of the disciplines they are hiring in.

    As for what constitutes 'public support' - we've already voted with our taxpayer dollars for zombie studies. There is no greater form of express support than subsidy. Furthermore I guarantee you that there are at least three industries outside academia that will consume the products of 'zombie studies' - publishing, film/TV, and internet-based media - and it is no doubt pursuit of income from these sources that will enable 'zombie studies' to flourish. Like I said before, one does not buck the public purse with impunity.

    H-1B workers are not "trained by the government," at least not through any kind of formally established program.

    They are not paid "premium salaries," at least not according to the US Department of Labor: "...the Department's regulations require that the wages offered to a foreign worker must be the *prevailing wage rate* for the occupational classification in the area of employment.
    The prevailing wage rate is defined as the *average wage* paid to similarly employed workers in a specific occupation in the area of intended employment...
    The requirement to pay prevailing wages as a minimum is true of most employment based visa programs involving the Department of Labor. In addition, the H-1B, H-1B1, and E-3 programs require the employer to pay the prevailing wage or the actual wage paid by the employer to workers with similar skills and qualifications, whichever is higher." In short, they are supposed to be paid "prevailing wage" or going rate for that position with that employer. In many cases these minima are not met by the employer.

    Let's read about that "crying demand for engineers" from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers:

    Anio, Monica "Are Engineers Really In Demand," IEEE Roundup, 2/10/12 ... and from senior editor Patrick Thibodeau of Computerworld, who has reported on IT and engineering employment issues for over a decade:

    Thibodeau, Patrick "What STEM Shortage? Electrical Engineering Lost 35,000 Jobs Last Year" Computerworld, 01/16/14.

    As for "lies" about "domestic staff being displaced," the displacement of US citizen engineers has been documented for well over a decade by Dr. Norm Matloff, Professor of Computer Science at UC Davis. Distillations of his research on visa programs have appeared at Bloomberg.com ("How Foreign Students Hurt U.S. Innovation," 2/11/2013) and Barron's ("Where Are the Best and Brightest," June 8, 2013).

    In these articles he takes the current president to task for his support of expanding green card giveaways as well as California Democrat Zoe Lofgren for her support of the H-1B program. The "people who hate the Koch Brothers" reflexively vote Democrat and don't go after the party faithful in op-ed pieces.

    • by radl33t (900691)
      Perfect. I plan to retire around age 40. If I'm "forced" into it, then maybe I'll get a nice going away present. It's impossible to assign a value to the 7 years I spent in graduate school, its simply too astronomical. I expanded in ways and explored opportunities that impossible, and frankly inconceivable to me as a 'working man.' In exchange for some mild opportunity costs I spent 15,000 hours of my life doing exactly what I wanted, when I wanted, with who I wanted. When entering the workforce in my late

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