Unexpectedly Intriguing!
June 9, 2008

Cap and Diploma Now that we've looked at why teenagers and students in college are going to be very unlucky in finding jobs this summer, we thought that it might be fun to look at what kind of money those who have just obtained college degrees can reasonably expect as they enter the U.S. workforce!

The dynamic table below summarizes recent average starting salary by academic degree, which we've compiled from recent data published by CNN (HT: Mark Perry) and the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

To sort the data in the table, you just need to click the column headings - you can sort either alphabetically by college major or numerically by average starting salary. To re-sort the data in reverse order, just click the column heading again!

2008 Starting Salaries for Recent College Graduates
Degree / Major Average Starting Salary
Accounting $47,413
Chemistry $52,125
Communications $35,196
Computer Science $56,921
Economics $52,926
Engineering - All $56,336
Engineering - Chemical $63,749
Engineering - Civil $49,427
Engineering - Electrical $56,512
Engineering - Mechanical $56,429
English $34,757
Finance $48,795
History $35,956
Human Resources $40,250
Journalism $32,250
Liberal Arts - All $33,258
Management $43,823
Marketing $43,459
Nursing $52,129
Political Science $43,594
Psychology $30,877
Public Relations $30,667

Having sorted the data by salary, we noticed an interesting trend - namely, that liberal arts majors fall into the bottom of the barrel when it comes to making a decent amount of money upon entering the workforce.

In fact, if we draw the line right above History majors, we find that there is a significant gap between these college graduates and their more business and technically-oriented peers. So, what's the difference between the educations that can be obtained through these programs that might account for the large discrepancies that we observe in the table above?

Could it be productivity? Since we would expect people who are more productive to have higher earning power and consequently, a greater ability to command a higher starting salary when entering the workforce, could this explain the difference?

We find the answer here is no. Consider that every academic major graduates students who have never obtained real world work experience, and therefore, have never demonstrated their relative level of productivity compared to other students. Yet, the students in the business and technical fields will still outmatch their liberal arts peers in starting salaries, even with identical grades. So we see that productivity doesn't factor in much at this level - although, we should note that it does play a factor within majors. Students who do obtain real world experience in their fields through internships, co-op programs or other employment are able to command higher starting salaries than their peers within their fields who do not.

Let's take a step backward. The primary purpose of an accredited college education is to provide students with a means of demonstrating to others that they have acquired a given body of knowledge. So there must be something inherent in the body of knowledge that the student acquires that accounts for the discrepancy in starting salaries. What is it that the students in business and technically-oriented degrees are getting that the graduates of liberal arts are not?

The answer may be found by considering just what it takes to be successful in life. The two things anyone needs to achieve great success are: great ideas and great execution.

Here, an individual can have the greatest idea ever, but unless they can turn it into something real (execution), they'll never achieve great success. Likewise, someone can have a lousy idea, but through great execution, achieve a moderate amount of success.

The ideal combination, of course, is to blend a great idea with great execution.

Where this applies to starting salaries for students with recently minted college degrees is that the technical and business-oriented degress all share a common characteristic - they demand the ability to execute ideas into reality.

Meanwhile, the liberal arts programs are big on ideas, but are not so much when it comes to execution. And therein we find why liberal arts majors just don't fare very well in the salary department when entering the job market.

How Much Is That Idea Worth?

We featured the following tool some time ago, and since it relates to this discussion, we present it here so you can find out for yourself how much various combinations of awful-to-brilliant ideas and lousy-to-great execution matters in determining how much value an idea potentially has:

Idea and Execution Quality Ratings
Quality Type Rating
Idea Quality
Execution Quality
Potential Value
Estimated Results Values
Potential Value of the Idea ($USD)

Update 18 June 2008: Made the 2008 starting salary data table look "prettier." (Okay, make that "less clunky!")

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