State News

NC engineering, tech grads cash in

Posted August 8, 2014

— To make the most money coming out of a North Carolina university, study nuclear engineering and you'll earn almost $90,000 a year. To make the least, study dramatic theater and earn $10,400.

Amid the sluggish economic recovery, many families are wondering how best to make their increasingly expensive investment in college pay off. North Carolina's public universities and community colleges have tried to provide an answer, by releasing the average salaries earned by students according to their major and campus.

A handful of other states, including Texas and Florida, have released similar data and two-thirds of the states have received federal funding to track the progress of individual students from kindergarten to the workplace.

The figures may help sway students who don't have a firm career plan, said Kelly Cravener, a 21-year-old marketing major at North Carolina State University. Her NCSU marketing peers who graduated in 2012 were earning almost $27,000 on average.

"I think a lot of people come in and they just don't know what they want to do and they switch majors three or four times," Cravener said as she scanned the web site outside the campus bookstore.

North Carolina's website links student college records with salary information collected by the state's unemployment agency. It shows what someone with say an anthropology degree is making after graduation and up to 10 years later. Students also can see a breakdown of the different salaries earned by anthropology graduates depending on which of the state's 16 public universities they attended.

Federal funds linking data on individual children starting as early as pre-kindergarten to later earnings started during the Bush Administration and expanded with the 2009 stimulus package. The Obama Administration and legislators, including Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, and Marco Rubio, R-Florida, have pushed for more information about the benefit of particular degrees.

Despite rising costs, education beyond high school is one of the main differences between poverty and a middle-class lifestyle. North Carolina officials said they hope their data will help students match up with fields where pent-up demand will promise them high wages.

"Of course, there are many paths to success. So this is not a recommendation, it's just a way to arm students and families with good, useful information," said Peter Hans, who pushed for the project when he was chairman of the University of North Carolina Board of Governors.

Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce, said North Carolina's program, inaugurated last week, is one of the best at showing the value of a degree. He expects college instructors to hate it.

"They don't get up every day and think about getting somebody a job. They're teaching history or something, so this is news to them," Carnevale said.

Gabriel Lugo, a mathematics professor at UNC-Wilmington and president of the school's faculty, said he discussed the website with four department chairs in both the liberal arts and the sciences at his university. They shared concerns about how the data will be used by policy-makers allocating state resources, he said.

"It makes me very nervous," Lugo said. "It makes the implicit assumption that the contribution of your education is the main or the only factor affecting your earning potential. We all know that it's not the case."

The degrees-to-dollars comparisons also don't take job satisfaction into account, Lugo said.

The architects of the North Carolina program acknowledged a degree has value beyond income. And the data doesn't track graduates who found work out of state, those who start their own businesses or those who enter graduate school. And past results are not a guarantee of future earnings.

Timothy Reid said his parents have always emphasized that he pursue what he loved and the money would sort itself out. The NCSU senior who is majoring in psychology (a degree that translated into $15,443 a year for 2012 grads) said that parental commitment was tested when his older brother decided to become a music major.

"But they stayed with it — if you love it, do it. He ended up being an accountant," Reid said. "That's how I was raised. I guess if I was differently — that it's all about the money — I'd be a business major."

Then, he'd stand to earn about $27,000.


Emery Dalesio can be reached at .


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  • jmcdow2792 Aug 8, 2014

    If there is no demand for nuclear engineers then why are they being offered $90K? I would think with the reduction in fossil fuels use that nuclear will be a big factor in the future to providek reliable 24 hour per day energy without green house gases.

  • Frizz Aug 8, 2014

    I'm a techie nerd (operating system specialist on mainframes) and the college courses that have helped me most in my career were my Music Theory and Music Composition classes. I gained skills in those classes far beyond music. The organization and logic required to compose a baroque canon are immense. That may have been the most difficult thing I ever did in college, even tougher than Thermodynamics!

    My college advisor hounded me to take technical writing. I adamantly refused. You guessed it, I now spend about 25% of my time writing technical documents.

    We live in a world of technology and it ain't going away. Liberal Arts majors had better come to terms with that soon. Like maybe take more technical classes in college. And techie's had better learn how to properly communicate, like maybe take a few more English classes.

  • Jerry Sawyer Aug 8, 2014
    user avatar

    The engineering students actually want to do something with their lives. That is why they are so valuable to society.

  • anonymous99 Aug 8, 2014

    "It makes the implicit assumption that the contribution of your education is the main or the only factor affecting your earning potential. We all know that it's not the case."

    LOL. Yeah. Better to arm a bunch of students with underwater basket weaving degrees, then name racism and sexism as the primary factors affecting earning potential when they can't land a job at Google.

  • MinorityWillbeNewMajority Aug 8, 2014

    Oh no, this business about not thinking about money is bad advise. I don't want a bum of a child who graduates with a 4 year degree,lots of student loans and all he can do is sit at MY home, catching up on video game skills. H... no! Kids need to be independent coming from college. Life is not a rehearsal/trial run, this is the real thing!

  • carrboroyouth Aug 8, 2014

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    Exactly! I wish everyone would read your comment. A college degree is not a job.

  • carrboroyouth Aug 8, 2014

    Finding a job is the toughest part regardless of major. Every company is cutting back on hiring to save money. I feel so fortunate to have a gotten a job offer after my major. It's tough out there.

  • I-Defy Aug 8, 2014

    Learn math and elctronics kids! You'll starve with a liberal arts degree. nobody is looking to hire someone with a degree in 15th century Hungarian Lesbian studies

  • tri123 Aug 8, 2014

    This chart gives the median but it does not give the range, and it doesn't count the self-employed or any one who moved out of state. So if you are talented and ambitious, it cannot give you any guidance about what your degree will have to do with your income, which is probably nothing. UNC-CH found in it's research on majors to offer that most students end up in careers that did not exist when they entered college- in other words, it isn't even possible for them to have chosen a practical major.

    I got a humanities degree, graduated into a minimum wage job and worked hard until I was making six figures at the 10 year mark. At that point, my humanities degree wasn't unusual any more. After all, people who couldn't see past their noses looking at the job they would get at graduation aren't the people with the vision to run companies.

  • SouthernBornSouthernBred Aug 8, 2014

    caniac8402 - you spoke the truth! Do something that you love to do and not worry about making a ton of money and keeping up with the Jones! I didn't go to college and have a job in customer service making a little over $52,000 a year....not bad for being with a company for 20 years! My kids dream is to run an animal shelter, not much money in it but she will love her job! She is in college getting her degree in business to make her dream come true!