8 College Degrees with the Worst Return on Investment

May 13, 2013 |

Graduation cap

Traditional wisdom regarding education has been the same for a very long time: if you go to college, you’ll earn more money. In light of economic hubbub over the past few years, the traditional tune is changing. Student loan debt is fast becoming one of the biggest concerns in American economics, and some degrees don’t lead to as big a revenue stream as others. Salary.com has taken numerous degrees and calculated their return on investment (ROI). This was done by calculating the cost of the degree, the income that degree will predictably generate, then, “subtract[ing] the cost of the degree from the gains over 30 years, then divided that figure by cost.” Below we’ve compiled 8 college degrees with the worst return on investment, and included three popular careers associated with them with statistics from Salary.com.

8. Sociology

Social Worker
Median Salary: $47,121
30-Year Earnings: $2,779,195
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Public College: 73%
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Private College: 21%

Corrections Officer
Median Salary: $39,630
30-Year Earnings: $2,337,376
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Public College: 61%
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Private College: 18%

Chemical Dependency Councilor
Median Salary: $47,210
30-Year Earnings: $2,784,444
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Public College: 73%
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Private College: 21%

7. Fine Arts

Museum Research Worker
Median Salary: $48,401
30-Year Earnings: $2,854,689
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Public College: 75%
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Private College: 22%

Graphic Designer
Median Salary: $47,753
30-Year Earnings: $2,816,470
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Public College: 74%
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Private College: 22%

Painter/Illustrator
Median Salary: $37,819
30-Year Earnings: $2,230,563
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Public College: 58%
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Private College: 17%

6. Education

Daycare Center Teacher
Median Salary: $27,910
30-Year Earnings: $1,646,131
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Public College: 43%
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Private College: 13%

Elementary School Teacher
Median Salary: $52,241
30-Year Earnings: $3,081,172
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Public College: 82%
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Private College: 24%

High School Teacher
Median Salary: $54,473
30-Year Earnings: $3,212,815
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Public College: 85%
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Private College: 25%

 5. Religious Studies/Theology

Religious Educator
Median Salary: $47,957
30-Year Earnings: $2,828,502
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Public College: 75%
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Private College: 22%

Chaplain — Healthcare
Median Salary: $51,127
30-Year Earnings: $3,015,174
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Public College: 80%
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Private College: 24%

Associate Pastor
Median Salary: $61,811
30-Year Earnings: $3,645,610
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Public College: 96%
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Private College: 29%

4. Hospitality/Tourism

Meeting/Event Planner
Median Salary: $55,476
30-Year Earnings: $3,271,972
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Public College: 87%
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Private College: 26%

Hotel Resident Manager
Median Salary: $65,076
30-Year Earnings: $3,838,180
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Public College: 102%
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Private College: 30%

Catering Manager
Median Salary: $42,533
30-Year Earnings: $2,508,595
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Public College: 66%
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Private College: 20%

3. Nutrition

Dietician
Median Salary: $53,679
30-Year Earnings: $3,165,985
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Public College: 84%
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Private College: 25%

Food Services Manager
Median Salary: $56,711
30-Year Earnings: $3,344,813
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Public College: 89%
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Private College: 27%

Food Scientist
Median Salary: $64,019
30-Year Earnings: $3,775,838
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Public College: 100%
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Private College: 30%

2. Psychology

Human Services Worker
Median Salary: $22,738
30-Year Earnings: $1,341,086
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Public College: 35%
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Private College: 10%

Career Counselor – Higher Education
Median Salary: $43,384
30-Year Earnings: $2,558,787
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Public College: 68%
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Private College: 20%

Bereavement Coordinator
Median Salary: $52,200
30-Year Earnings: $3,078,754
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Public College: 81%
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Private College: 24%

1. Communications

Copywriter
Median Salary: $52,549
30-Year Earnings: $3,099,338
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Public College: 82%
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Private College: 24%

News Reporter
Median Salary: $37,393
30-Year Earnings: $2,205,438
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Public College: 58%
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Private College: 17%

Marketing Coordinator
Median Salary: $50,455
30-Year Earnings: $2,975,834
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Public College: 79%
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Private College: 23%

About Stephen Bajza

Comments

  1. Mike says:

    Stay out of the social sciences – if you buy this article – I rather agree if you want to make a decent living

  2. Edward says:

    Identified are professions that people enter but not for money which is to bad as they are needed skillsets in our chemical dependent society.

  3. susanaustintx says:

    Not sure why social work, corrections, and chemical dependency are shown under sociology, which includes none of the disciplines listed.

  4. John K. says:

    They're listed they're because they all have something to do with behavioral sciences, which is a part of the sociology field.

    • John K. says:

      oops…listed *there*

    • The expected growth of Social Workers between 2010 and 2020 according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics is 25% (faster than average). One who values security versus high income may be more drawn to this degree.

  5. Michele Campione says:

    I believe your article is missing one critical element, as much as I can appreciate your ROI numbers. I believe this article would be much improved, if you had also included the median cost of the education required. Other wise you risk insulting to the vast majority of middle class workers who hold these degrees and the jobs listed with them. Providing information on the alternatives to these worst ROI degrees, so that your audience would actually learn what kinds of additional education or certifications that would yield a higher ROI. It comes off as slightly elitist to the reader without this additional information. Perhaps that was your goal, and if it was, good for you.

    • Michele, I agree. I think more information is needed in this article. There are so many more factors that go into reporting numbers like this. Without more empirical evidence, I challenge this report.

  6. WriterDudeLA says:

    What about degrees like General Studies, or any of the degree programs that examine cultural and or racial groups?

    • PJK says:

      400K per year…become a community organizer in Chicago, then Senator from IL, then President

      • janelle says:

        sounds like he was a pretty smart guy to do that, huh?

      • LMRS says:

        You failed to mention that he turned down six figure jobs to become a community organizer because he wanted to help the underprivilege. I smell envy and sarcasm in your comment.

        • MrWonderful says:

          The only thing he ever helped the underprivileged with is feeling anger and resentment of the system that was 'keeping them down.'
          He turned down those six-figure positions because he knew he was being groomed by the powers-that-be for the Presidency. How else can you explain a 1st year senator, that never took a stand on anything, becoming POTUS.
          If only someone would have pointed-out that he was all but raised by socialist extremists… oh wait, they did, just none of the lame-stream media would cover it.

  7. lisandro says:

    I don't know where you got your information for correctional officers, but I averaged $72,000 per year, with overtime, I exceeded $100,000. I am now retired and I still exceed $90,000 per annum. As a college graduate, I have found that Law enforcement salaries exceed many mba programs, and just think, corrections officer only need a ged.

    • Rose says:

      I agree. I am in juvenile corrections and with overtime many of my hardworking peers are in the bracket you stated. Additionally, the fact tha we are hazardous duty which means 20 years and I am eligible to retire with a pension and medical benefits is a blessing. That's the bright side. On the other side can be much darkness.

  8. I think it is important to remember that we all have a unique set of values that aid us in the decision making process. Doing what a person loves and aligns with their interests, skills, values and personality may be priceless for some.

    This article was listed as "Eight College Degrees That Aren't Worth It" in my email with the link to this article. I think that title is very misleading.

    As a Career Counselor, the passion I have for my job and the fact I wake up every morning and actually want to go to work, are the biggest returns on investments I need. That may not be true for everyone but it fits with my personal preferences in my career development process.

    These may be careers with low ROI but I challenge individuals to ask how much they are willing to pay for a career they they are passionate about and meets their needs.

  9. Paul D. says:

    Should we really include OT?

  10. STN says:

    Overtime should be included; the way public sector unions control state/local government it is essentially an entitlement. Great for the corrections officers, bad for the taxpayer…unless that control ever weakens and market forces play a bigger role…

    • Rose says:

      I beg to differ….an entitlement…..great for the correction officer , bad for the tax payer. I work in juvenile corrections AND I am a tax payer. I am also a Veteran. As a youth services officer and as a veteran I have devoted my life to protecting the "tax payer". STN I would just encourage you to be more thoughtful about judgement in these matters.

  11. 4degreesnojob says:

    Continuation of employment should be a factor as well! while these jobs may have low returns people usually stay employed in good as well as bad economic times compare to others. I haven't seen advertisement for IT, but I've seen more advertisement for the above mentioned job openings. My-bro-in-law is a CO still employed compare to me business reductions or IT closers favoring contractor kept me unemployed. my hope is get whatever books I can and cross train to software specialist so I can get a web or network job. I think IT should be on the list as the 4yrs degree only good for 2yrs than you need to retrain again! Your Survey really need to allow for real world factors!

  12. Gone for the summer says:

    I use to work in the medical field for 20 plus years which is considered a pretty admirable job. Over the 20 plus years I listen to countless nurses and doctors who have said, if they had to do it all again this would not be their first choice. Most of them where motivated by money. How ironic the very thing that motivated them, enslaves them. The student loans, the new car, and the house payments ect. How often do they get a chance to enjoy the fruits of their labor. I watched a roomate of mine by-the- way who was a nurse, literally get old before my eyes. just to hold on to a house she could niether afford or needed.