Charles Purdy, senior editor for Monster.com, reported recently on the worst-paying college degrees for the current year, and what he found was rather enlightening. Most significantly, the facts reveal that many people care more about having a career in a helping profession than they do about how much money they will make in that profession. Here’s what his study revealed.
First, many studies have been done regarding career satisfaction which reveal that a lot of people are more concerned about a good work-life balance and feeling that they are making a difference in the career they have chosen than they care about salary. In fact, salary placed surprisingly low on a list of the things that make workers happy.
The list of lowest paying college degrees seems to be a reflection of these studies, as most of the lowest-paying degrees for 2011 are helping professions.
Studies also show, however, that people who have many of these degrees often eventually increase their earning power by taking graduate courses to earn masters degrees or doctorate degrees. Also, it used to be that workers were more loyal to their careers and didn’t move around much from one career to another. But it is far more common today that people will switch careers at least once in their lifetime.
That being said, let’s take a look at the lowest-paying degrees for 2011:
1. Child and Family Studies
This degree is often a preparatory step towards other studies such as family counseling or teaching, and it can also better prepare people for parenthood. Regardless of the reason people go for this degree, it is the lowest paying for both starting and mid-career salaries, with a starting salary of around $29,600 and a mid-career salary of only $40,500.
2. Elementary Education
I can attest to the fact that teaching in an elementary school can be a very rewarding career emotionally but not financially. (I was surprised to see that they separate elementary from secondary education, as I was under the assumption that all districts, like ours, paid the same salary to both, If there is a difference in other districts, I can’t help but wonder why.) But the good news is that, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics or the BLS, job opportunities are projected to grow by 14% in this decade (probably as more baby boomers retire). The average starting pay for elementary education is $32,400, and the average mid-career salary is $44,000.
3. Social Work
This is a vital profession which provides support and guidance to people when they are going through tough times. Again, there is good news from the BLS which expects favorable opportunities in this field, especially for those social workers who work in rural areas or who work with the elderly. The median starting salary for social work is $32,200, and the median mid-career salary is $44,300.
4. Culinary Arts
This is a great degree for people who care more about becoming a chef or who wish to open their own restaurant than they care about a big salary. This career has an average beginning salary of $29,900 and an average mid-career salary of $46,800.
5. Special Education
This can be a very rewarding profession which requires at least a bachelor’s degree. In some states, a master’s degree is also required. Due to several factors, one of those being reported shortages of qualified teachers, the BLS foresees great future job opportunities in this field. (Again, I was surprised to see this broken down separately from elementary education and to see that their average pay is higher. This does not reflect our district where teachers all start out at the same salary.) The starting pay is around $34,300, and the mid-career salary is around $47,800 for special education teachers.
6. Recreation and Leisure Studies
I confess that I didn’t know such a degree existed, but I have learned that this study includes leisure and recreation and play-related experiences which include social issues, human behavior, and public policy. And what do most of these graduates do with this degree? Apparently they go back to school for further education that allows them to join careers such as recreational therapy. They earn around $34,500 in their first year, and by mid-career, they can earn around $49,100.
7. Religious Studies or Theology
Obviously, people who pursue this degree have a “higher calling” and are not in it for the money. And that is probably a good thing, as their average starting salary is $32,300 and average mid-career salary is $50,600.
8. Athletic Training
People with this degree are trained to prevent, diagnose, treat and rehabilitate both injuries and sport-related illnesses. Additionally, they prevent and treat persistent musculoskeletal injuries resulting from sports, occupational, or physical activities. They also are trained to give immediate care for severe injuries. I was surprised to learn that these workers don’t earn more than they do since they obviously have a tremendous amount of medical knowledge. With a starting salary of around $34,600 and a mid-career salary of only $50,200, they seem distinctly underpaid.
9. Public Health
This is a degree that offers a myriad of possibilities all of which improve the lives of others. There are higher-paying careers available in this field, but they would require advanced degrees. Without those advanced degrees, the median starting salary for a public health career is $35,500 and the median mid-career salary is $51,700.
This degree prepares students for various degrees in visual arts, but it is tough to find commercial success in this field, hence the term “starving artist.” Very often, artists aren’t truly “discovered” until they are deceased, and by then, it’s a little late to reap the financial rewards. Of all of these degrees however, it is the highest paying, although still meager. The average starting salary for a career in art is $35,300 and the average mid-career salary is $52,400.
So, there you have it; the lowest paying degrees nationally. Bear in mind, these are national averages so people may earn more or less than this where you reside.
The most interesting and encouraging news that I take away from this study is that so many people are willing to overlook the money in order to make a difference in the world around them.
But there is an equally disturbing aspect of this study. With so many students coming out of college with astronomical college loans, how can we expect them to survive on such meager salaries? We may see students shying away from these degrees, not because they want to but because they can’t afford not to. That’s troubling because all of these professions are so very crucial.