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New study says popular bachelor’s degrees and high-paying jobs don’t always align

‘How America Works’ host Mike Rowe discusses how kids before college should define a ‘goal’ before deciding to attend on ‘The Big Money Show.’

A recent study found that some of the most popular college bachelor’s degrees don’t always lead to high-paying jobs and the author of the study is challenging prospective college students to make an informed decision about their career choice. 

"We hope our data remains helpful for those considering college," Michael Itzkowitz, a former Education Department official under the Obama administration wrote in a Twitter post. "It’s important that wherever students attend—and whatever field of study they choose to pursue—they leave knowing it was worth it."

The Higher Education Advisory Group (HEA Group), which was founded by Itzkowitz, compared data from the Department of Education with the average salary for students with an undergraduates degree four years post-graduation. 

Graduating Boston University student

A graduating Boston University student calls out during David Zaslav’s commencement speech. (Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images / Getty Images)

The study found that the top ten most popular bachelor’s degree programs don’t necessarily lead to the highest salaries.

While data found that the graduates earned more than $40,000 annually, only business administration, registered nursing and accounting showed graduates earnings above $50,000 per year. The lowest-paying major of the group was teacher education and professional development with majors like psychology, liberal arts, communications, criminal justice, biology and health and physical education falling into the average.

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Graduate using his cell phone

Morehouse College graduates participate in the 2023 139th Morehouse College Commencement Ceremony at Morehouse College on May 21, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia.  ( Paras Griffin/Getty Images / Getty Images)

The HEA Group found that unsurprisingly the bachelor's degree leading to the highest salaries were heavily concentrated in STEM-science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. 

Computer Science, the most popular field of study within the STEM majors, show its grads earning around $105,000 per year. Four of the top earning degrees – operation research, naval architecture and marine engineering, and marine transportation – also had average salaries over $100,000, followed by computer engineering at $99,063.

The highest-paying major, operations research, had an average salary of $112,097.

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The study also considered students who pursued an associate degree, with the study finding that they made less than graduates with a bachelor's degree due to the fewer years of study. 

Associate degree graduates from physical science technologies, bioethics/medical ethics, and construction engineering technologies showed their graduates earning more than $70,000 within four years of completing their studies, according to The HEA Group.

Graduates

Graduates during the commencement ceremony for California State University Northridge’s Colleges of Engineering and Computer Science and of Science and Mathematics in Northridge, Friday, May 19, 2023.  (Hans Gutknecht/MediaNews Group/Los Angeles Daily News via Getty Images / Getty Images)

The most popular associate's degree include: registered nursing, liberal arts, business administration, allied health and assisting medical services, vehicle maintenance services and culinary.

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An associate's degree in registered nursing—also the second most popular bachelor's program—show graduates earning a competitive early career salary, averaging just under $67,000 per year. 

The HEA Group found that other popular associate-degree programs showed students earning substantially less. Health and medical administrative services and culinary arts display average salaries just above $30,000, even four years after students have completed these programs

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