You probably shouldn’t major in arts at Murray State University, or straight-up attend Shaw University

Well, this is depressing. PayScale did some “college ROI” and found that Harvey Mudd College is basically a more valuable education than Harvard or Stanford (red flag!) and (first link) there are a bunch of schools — topped by Shaw University in NC — where not going to college is $30,000 more valuable than actually taking the time to pay for, and attend, and pay back, a degree. They also broke it down by college + major here. The lesson? Don’t major in education, arts, or the humanities basically at all.


There are, of course, caveats to this work. First off, it’s based on self-reported income. That tends to tick higher than actual income, because who the hell would fill out a basically anonymous form and not give themselves an additional 5-10K? Secondly, this:

Second, PayScale calculates the next 20 years in earnings by inferring from the last 20 years. Sounds reasonable. But like any assumption, this carries risks. The “most coveted major” changes from time to time. If biomedical engineering becomes the next big VC category, scientists in California will be in higher demand than software engineers, whose earnings forecast might fall. PayScale can’t predict that future. Moreover, if a school dramatically expanded a high-value program (like engineering) in the last five years, it might raise the financial value of its students in a way that PayScale doesn’t full account for, since this research looks back two decades. In short, like most studies of this kind, the findings are fascinating and worth remembering and quoting—but also worth contextualizing.

So you shouldn’t necessarily take all this at face value, per se — but if you have high-school-age children, you shouldn’t necessarily let them head towards that arts degree at Murray State (or that education degree anywhere), either.

The whole picture of college debt is one of America’s most insane challenges today — goodbye, middle class — and this is all kind of a bigger corollary to that, with a lot of “wait, don’t completely believe this” aspects. The overall problem is real, though. Maybe this is the future?


Ted Bauer