Is college worth it? Currently, it doesn't seem so for students hoping to get jobs in architecture, government, the humanities or arts after college.
Recent graduates with bachelor's degrees in those areas have been suffering high unemployment rates, according to a study by the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University.
Anthony Carnevale, the center's director, found the highest unemployment rates recently among graduates with degrees in architecture and information systems, with housing and business construction still far below pre-crisis levels. Carnevale found 12.8 percent of recent college graduates in architecture were unemployed.
While some technology degrees are in high demand, people who were pursuing clerical jobs in information systems faced the highest unemployment rate of any profession that Carnevale researched - 14.7 percent. Even computer science majors have been facing 8.7 percent unemployment. Math majors have done better, with only 5.9 percent unemployed.
Carnevale said people aren't getting specific enough when asking, "Is college worth it?"
His study is based on 2010 and 2011 data from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey, and he said it shows that a student's degree plays a significant role in whether college is worth it when landing a job.
For example, recent graduates with nursing degrees have only faced a 4.8 percent unemployment rate, and only 5 percent of people with elementary teaching degrees ended up unemployed. Other low rates of unemployment involved degrees in physical fitness (5.2 percent), chemistry (5.8 percent) and finance (5.9 percent).
Analysts have emphasized that college has been worth it because fewer college graduates have lost jobs than those with only high school educations.
Carnevale agreed and noted, "Overall unemployment rates during this period were 9 to 10 percent for noncollege graduates, compared to 4.6 to 4.7 percent for college graduates 25 years of age or older."
But during that time period, recent college graduates were not doing as well as people who had earned degrees previously and were already in the workforce.
Besides architecture, unemployment has been high in anthropology and archaeology at 12.6 percent, and in film, video and photography at 11.4 percent. In the arts, unemployment has been 9.8 percent. Political science and government majors have faced an even more difficult job market, with 11 percent jobless.
Some college counselors argue that liberal arts education remains valuable because employers want good communicators who can think. But in today's tough job market, employers are being picky. They can insist on people with unique skills in addition to being strong thinkers and communicators.
Carnevale found that some work experience can shelter people in tough fields. For example, while the unemployment rate was 12.8 percent for recent architecture graduates, those with work experience faced only a 9.3 percent unemployment rate.
He said the more educated and experienced graduates were, the more unemployment rates dropped in most fields. In addition, he said, pay rises in most professions with graduate degrees. For example, a recent graduate with a fine arts degree was earning $29,000 on average, but with a graduate degree that rose to $55,000. Without a graduate degree, fine arts majors did better if they'd had some work experience. Instead of averaging $29,000 in pay, it was $48,000.
Parents and high school counselors should be getting students to realize potential outcomes before they commit to college loans. The average loans incurred by student borrowers total $27,000 - a sum easily handled by an engineering graduate, with pay averaging $55,000. But with the rule of thumb that student loans shouldn't exceed 8 percent of pay, a fine arts student will have trouble with $27,000 in loans unless Mom and Dad help.
Gail MarksJarvis is a personal finance columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Readers may send her email at firstname.lastname@example.org