Engineering, computer science majors top data on earnings after graduation


Daily file photo by Catherine Buchaniec

Median salaries and debts for graduates of different majors. New data from the U.S. Department of Education show the median salary for computer science majors at Northwestern was about $8,000 more than computer engineering majors.

Alan Perez, Reporter

For students deciding between computer science and computer engineering, the former might result in a higher salary a year after college.

New comprehensive data from the U.S. Education Department show the median salary for computer science majors at Northwestern was about $8,000 more than computer engineering majors. Overall, STEM majors topped the department’s revised College Scorecard, which allows students to compare the salaries, debt and loan monthly payments of students across the country.

The median salary of students who studied computer science, math and engineering was well above $60,000 a year out from graduation. These students also averaged about $15,000 of total federal debt.

The salary data is based on federal tax forms and school-reported information on students who received federal financial aid, meaning it leaves out students not on federal aid. The debt levels collected only include information on federal loans.

The Scorecard shows for the first time median salaries and debt for students of a particular field of study across schools. The Education Department hopes students can use the data to more accurately compare education programs, instead of relying on reputation-based rankings, according to a news release.

“We worked to deliver a product that is customizable and transparent—a tool that provides real information students need to make informed, personalized decisions about their education,”Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in the release. “The Scorecard also ensures students can make apples-to-apples comparisons by providing the same data about all of the programs a student might be considering without regard to the type of school.”

The agency hopes the data will help students better decide on their higher education options by being able to compare similar academic programs across schools. But calls for greater transparency regarding outcomes did not stop with the new Scorecard.

Some questioned if students would even use the tool, while others noted the limitation of including salaries only one year out. STEM majors tend to earn relatively higher salaries their first year out of college, while liberal arts majors typically start with a lower earnings and gain larger raises over the course of their careers.

“In some fields of study, earnings change quite a bit the first few years out,” Robert Kelchen, an associate professor of higher education at Seton Hall University, told Inside Higher Ed. “In other fields they may not change as much, because you basically enter at the top of the salary scale.”

The Obama administration launched the Scorecard along with a gainful employment rule to punish programs that graduated students with unmanageable levels of debt and poor employment outcomes, a regulation aimed mainly at for-profit institutions. DeVos repealed that rule earlier this year, opting to rely instead on greater information to delegate the responsibility to students.

The revision expands the data to include more traditional schools like Northwestern, where computer science majors topped the median earnings list at $88,500. Following was computer engineering at $80,600, industrial engineering at $76,400 and chemical engineering at $75,700.

Biomedical engineers acquired the most federal debt — $17,166 — followed by music majors at $16,787 and mechanical engineers at $16,500.

Some NU majors are categorized differently than what they’re known for. For example, the Scorecard has students from the Community Organization and Advocacy program making a median $58,000 a year out from graduation, though no major with the name exists at Northwestern.

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