As STEM Degrees Hold Strong, Non-STEM Degrees Are Recovering

on August 17, 2017

College graduates with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) degrees earn more than most other professions and have better overall job security.


Because of their earning potential and stable employment, STEM majors such as health, physical science and biological science had some of the highest graduation rates 2005 to 2015, according to data from the Digest of Education Statistics. Conversely, classical degrees such as English, education and philosophy and religion experienced a severe decline during the same period.


Gap in Graduation Rates


Although they’ve decreased from a peak in 2012, graduation rates for the top three STEM degrees —biological sciences, physical sciences and health professions — have remained strong. STEM graduates experienced a high degree of job security during and after the Great Recession, likely due to their importance in the economy, as reported by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.


The report details how STEM fields, such as health, always will be a crucial industry in the economy. As the marketplace for STEM jobs continues to grow, science and technology majors will remain popular on college campuses.


Health profession degrees were the most popular among STEM majors. They have been the most popular degree since 2005. Physical and biological science degrees, however, jostled for second place throughout the past decade.



Between 2012 and 2015, the number of degrees awarded for classical majors —English, education and philosophy and religion— plummeted. English degrees slipped into last place with a 9.1 percent decrease, while education and philosophy and religion hit new lows with respective decreases of 7.3 percent and 7.7 percent.


Unemployment and Earnings


When the unemployment rate from 2010 to 2015 is examined, STEM jobs have been extremely stable when compared to non-STEM positions. Classical majors, which experienced a sharp decline during the Great Recession, only have begun to slow their decline in the past five years.


Physical sciences and health professions, which experienced little volatility from 2010 to 2015, saw their unemployment rates improve by 0.3 percent (4.7 to 4.4 percent for physical sciences, 3.3 to 3.0 percent for health professions). Biological science jobs experienced a 1.6 percent improvement (4.9 to 3.3 percent). Of the bottom three classical majors, philosophy and religion improved by 4.1 percent (7.8 to 3.7 percent), and English degrees improved by 3.2 percent (7.6 to 4.4 percent). Education experienced the smallest improvement of the non-STEM degrees at 1.5 percent (3.4 to 1.9 percent).



Changes in median annual earnings show a similar trend.


Although STEM positions and jobs filled by people with classical degrees saw their median earnings decrease from 2010 to 2015, most STEM positions recorded the biggest declines, despite being some of the highest-earning jobs.


People with health degrees experienced the biggest decrease — their median annual earnings declined by $4,660 ($54,710 to $50,050) from 2010 to 2015. Physical science and biological science degree holders saw smaller decreases, losing $3,050 ($45,880 to $42,830) and $4,020 ($47,070 to $43,050) in median annual earnings, respectively.



Philosophy and religion degree holders saw a $3,810 decrease ($43,790 to $39,980), and education degree holders experienced a drop in annual median earnings of $2,630 ($41,590 to $38,960). English degree holders witnessed the smallest five-year decrease, losing only $1,740 in annual median earnings ($41,410 to $39,670).


Employers are placing greater value in the ability to write well. This could be part of the reason English degree holders recorded the smallest decrease in median annual wage during the five-year period. English degrees surpassed education degrees in median earnings from 2010 to 2015, and in 2015, only trailed philosophy and religion degrees’ earnings by $310.


Overall, the data shows a robust job market for STEM graduates and the recovery of jobs for people with classical degrees.

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