Michelle Singletary On Setting Expectations for College Graduates

Considering the unemployment rate for recent college graduates — 9 percent — I am always shocked to hear or read about students who borrow heavily with no specific job goals in mind. The Washington Post’s Michelle Singletary recently addressed this very issue:

Maybe a new report from the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce will help encourage students to make better choices about which college and degrees they pursue. “Hard Times: College Majors, Unemployment and Earnings: Not All College Degrees Are Created Equal“ answers the question that many people are asking in the aftermath of the recession. Is college still worth it?

For most, it is. But it all depends on your major, the report concludes.

“It was true in the 1970s that the purpose of going to college was to get a degree because you could move through a lot of occupations,“ said Anthony P. Carnevale, director of the Georgetown center. “But since then, the difference among degrees has grown substantially.“

Median annual earnings among recent college graduates vary from $55,000 among engineering majors to $30,000 in the arts. Education, psychology and social work majors have relatively low unemployment, but their earnings are also low and only improve marginally with experience and graduate education.

“Today’s best advice, then, is that high school students who can go on to college should do so — with one caveat,“ the report’s authors write. “They should do their homework before picking a major because, when it comes to employment prospects and compensation, not all college degrees are created equal.“

Like Singletary, I cringe when I hear about Liberal Arts majors who are about to graduate with no job experience. Even when I graduated with a journalism degree in 1999, editors cared more about my newspaper clips than they did my actual degree. Today, it must be even worse.

For those of you with children in college, did you make sure they had specific job goals? What do your children plan to do when they graduate?