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Major Affects Job Prospects
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Chart of CEW Unemployment by Major Education Level
A report by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, broken down by college major, shows the unemployment rate declining as recent college graduates gain experience and graduate education. Courtesy of the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce

A new report correlating college majors with unemployment rates finds engineering undergraduate students, including civil engineering majors, can anticipate a lower unemployment rate than the national average. 

January 17, 2012—A new report analyzing employment rates by college majors—released by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, a Washington, D.C.-based research and policy institute—reveals that the average unemployment rate for recent engineering graduates is 7.5 percent, lower than the national average of 8.9 percent for all recent college graduates. Civil engineering majors have a slightly higher rate—8.1 percent—due to the recent drop in construction activity, according to the report, but this is still less than the average. In contrast, the report finds that architecture majors are experiencing a significantly higher unemployment rate: 13.9 percent. The report, which considers recent graduates to be those aged 22 to 26 years, is based on 2010 U.S. Census Bureau data.

The report, entitled Hard Times—Unemployment, Majors and Earnings: Not All College Degrees Are Created Equal, also analyzed employment outcomes for experienced college graduates (those age 30 to 54 years) and those with graduate degrees. (Click here to see report.) “What was new with this study is we calculated recent unemployment versus experienced-worker unemployment,” says Anthony P. Carnevale, the center’s director and the report’s lead author.

The report, which is broken down by majors, confirmed the assumption that unemployment rates decline as graduates gain experience or add a graduate degree to their accomplishments. The unemployment rate for experienced engineering graduates, for example, is 4.9 percent, and for those who hold graduate degrees, the rate drops to just 3.4 percent. When considering civil engineers in particular, the picture improves. Unemployment rates for civil engineers are 4.5 percent for experienced graduates and just 2.8 percent for graduate degree holders. By contrast, unemployment rates for architects are 9.2 percent for experienced graduates and 7.7 percent for those holding graduate degrees. The report ties the dismal outlook for architects to the “collapse of the construction and home building industry in the recession.”

The report also confirmed that salaries increase as recent college graduates gain experience and graduate-level educations. According to the findings, recent engineering graduates earn a median salary of $55,000, while experienced engineering graduates earn a median of $81,000 and engineering graduate degree holders earn a median of $100,000. Recent architecture students can expect to earn a median salary of $36,000, while experienced architecture graduates earn a median of $64,000 and architecture graduate degree holders earn a median of $71,000. 

Chart of CEW Earnings by Major Education Level 

A report by the Georgetown University Center on Education and
the Workforce, broken down by college major, shows earnings
increasing as recent college graduates gain experience and
graduate education.
Courtesy of the Georgetown Center on
Education and the Workforce
 

“In the case of engineering, the two trends of consequence are housing construction and the collapse of manufacturing,” says Carnevale. “The mechanical engineers get hit on the manufacturing side and the civil engineers in construction. The assumption [for] the longer haul is that we will get a strong recovery in manufacturing, which looks like it has already started [based on] the concentration of engineers in manufacturing.”

Overall, Carnevale says, the market for engineering jobs should increase with the general economic recovery that many experts believe has already begun. “Manufacturing will be part of that, and construction will continue to lag for a while, but eventually one assumes it comes back,” he explains. He adds that the market for experts in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) is expected to grow. “In general, most people assume that the unemployment rate for the engineering side will come down to about 5 percent and [create] a fairly healthy labor market.”

The report reveals that graduate degrees add value; the unemployment rate for all graduate degree holders is 3 percent, but the combined rate for those with only bachelor’s degrees—even those with years of experience—is 5 percent. The report states, “Graduate degrees tend to outperform [bachelor’s degrees] on employment in part because advanced degrees represent higher levels of human capital develop and because those degrees are more closely aligned with career pathways in particular occupations and industries.”

Carnevale says that the 2010 census data have been particularly enlightening because of the details they have uncovered. “This is the best data anyone has ever had about this; the data is much stronger than it has ever been,” he says.

Moreover the outlook revealed by the data are promising. “I think the general supposition is the recovery will continue, although it will slow down. The longer-term prospect is relatively confident, notwithstanding big shocks,” Carnevale says. “It looks like there is traction and momentum.”


 

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