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January 4, 2012

Unemployment Varies by College Major, Study Finds

By Beckie Supiano

From The Chronicle of Higher Education

Recent graduates with nontechnical fields of study, such as the arts and humanities, faced higher unemployment rates.

Employment rates are higher for recent college graduates than for those with less education, but job prospects vary by major, according to a report released on Wednesday by Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce.

Architecture majors face the highest unemployment rate, 13.9 percent, of all 22- to 26-year-olds with bachelor's degrees. That's the result of the recession's toll on the construction industry, says the report, "Hard Times, College Majors, Unemployment, and Earnings: Not All College Degrees Are Created Equal."

In general, it says, unemployment is higher among recent graduates with nontechnical fields of study, such as the arts (11.1 percent) and humanities and liberal arts (9.4 percent). Graduates who studied health or education, however, both have unemployment rates of only 5.4 percent.

"If your major sounds like a job—engineering, for instance, sounds like you're going to be an engineer—you're going to be in better shape," said Anthony P. Carnevale, director of the center and lead author of the report. But that doesn't always hold, he added, as with architects. For the most part, engineers have strong job prospects, but civil and mechanical engineers face higher unemployment, he said.

The job security of an industry-oriented major may not coincide with high earnings, the report cautions. Health-care, science, and business majors with recent degrees have relatively low unemployment rates and high earnings, but for education, psychology, and social-work majors, both are low.

Still, regardless of major, going to college is a good bet, the report shows. The overall unemployment rate for recent bachelor's-degree recipients is 8.9 percent, compared with 22.9 percent for recent high-school graduates and 31.5 percent for recent high-school dropouts. And for most recent college graduates, unemployment will drop as the economy improves, Mr. Carnevale said. But that time out of the work force, he said, limits workers' future earnings.

In tough times, many new graduates take shelter in graduate school, and that's not a bad strategy, the report suggests. Not just for recent graduates, but over all, graduate-degree holders face lower unemployment rates (3 percent) than those with only bachelor's degrees (5 percent).

The report, based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, comes on the heels of two others from the center, focused on earnings by major and the importance of occupation.