Most African-American College Students Enrolled in Low-Paying Majors

February 11, 2016

Takeaways

The low-paying majors that African Americans are concentrated in are of high social value but low economic value.

Despite an increase in college access, African-American students most commonly declare majors that lead to low-paying jobs. This is the key finding of a new report by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. The report, African Americans: College Majors and Earnings, analyzed 137 majors, and found that the highest number of majors among African Americans is also the lowest-earning.  

Key Findings:

  • African Americans, who represent 12% of the population, are underrepresented in the number of degree holders in college majors associated with the fastest-growing, highest paying occupations: STEM, health, and business.
  • African Americans who earned a Bachelor’s degree in a STEM-related major, such as engineering or architecture, can earn as much as 50% more ($66,206 median income) than African Americans who earned a Bachelor’s degree in art, psychology, or social work ($42,107 median income).
  • Only 6% percent of African Americans with a Bachelor’s degree majored in pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences and administration, the major with the highest median earnings of $84,000.
  • Just 5% of African-American Bachelor’s degree holders majored in engineering.
  • Nearly 40% of African-American Bachelor's degree holders majored in an area associated with serving the community (human services and community organization or social work). The median earnings of these majors are $39,000 and $41,000, respectively. 
Meaningful career planning before college can provide transparency about major choice and potentially prevent onerous debt and underemployment down the road.

“The low-paying majors that African Americans are concentrated in are of high social value but low economic value,” said Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce. “Meaningful career planning before college can provide transparency about major choice and potentially prevent onerous debt and underemployment down the road.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation also released a report recently on the state of African-American student academic achievement in K–12 education. Similarly, the findings in The Path Forward: Improving Opportunities for African-American Students found that although students have demonstrated significant progress, far too many aren’t prepared for the rigor of college.

In addition, too many African-American students simply don’t have access to high-level courses and too few are exposed to rigorous courses in high demand areas such as STEM. In fact, only three states saw more than 5% of its African-American students pass at least one AP STEM exam during high school.

Simply put, if students aren’t provided access to demanding courses in secondary school, how are we to believe they will succeed in these majors during their postsecondary education?