What’s It Worth? The Value of a Bachelor’s Degree in the Arts

Posted by Amanda Alef, May 26, 2011 1 comment

In today’s uncertain economic times, a college degree can be considered the key to success. In fact, a new study conducted by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce indicates that college graduates overall make 84 percent more over a lifetime than those with only a high school diploma.

Furthermore, the study proves that the age old question “What will I major in?” has become increasingly more important when making decision about undergraduate education, as the findings reveal that not all Bachelor’s degrees are created equal.

What’s it Worth? The Economic Value of College Majors, based on United States Census data available for the first time, analyzes the economic value of specific college majors in order to help connect the dots between college majors and career earnings. The report presents data pertaining to earnings potential, employment rate, likelihood to obtain a graduate degree, and occupational trajectory across 171 specific college majors (categorized into 15 different fields). 

Overall findings from the study indicate that different majors have different economic value, and in some cases the difference in earnings potential between some majors can be more than 300 percent.

According to the study, the most popular major was Business—accounting for 25 percent of all students. Other popular majors fell within the fields of Medicine, Engineering, and Education.

Seven different engineering majors, as well as Math and Computer Science, and Pharmaceutical Science, made up the top ten majors with the highest median earnings—all with reported median earnings over $80,000. Conversely, Counseling Psychology and Early Childhood education majors were the lowest earning majors, with median earnings of only $29,000 and $36,000, respectively.

So what does all this mean for arts majors?

The report gathered data on seven different arts majors—Commercial Art and Graphic Design, Drama and Theater Arts, Film Video and Photographic Arts, Fine Arts, Music, Studio Arts, Visual and Performing Arts—and found that the arts account for 4.6 percent of all majors. Sixty-one percent of all people in these majors are women, while 39 percent are men. However, the study found that women in these majors made, in aggregate, $8,000 less than men. The racial makeup of people with Bachelor’s degrees with Arts majors is 81 percent white, 7 percent Asian, 7 percent Hispanic, 5 percent African-American , and 1 percent other races.

Arts majors ranked quite low in terms of median earnings—median earnings for those with a Bachelor’s degree who majored in Arts are $44,000—coming in third out of the 15 major categories, just ahead of Education, Psychology, and Social Work. However, researchers found significant earnings variations among specific majors in this group, with the 25th percentile earning $30,000 and the 75th percentile earning $65,000.

The highest earning major within the Arts category was Fine Arts, while the lowest earning majors were found to be Studio Arts, Drama and Theatre Arts, and Visual and Performing Arts—these three majors also fell within the top ten majors with the lowest median earnings overall.

According to the study, those who major in arts primarily end up working in arts (25%), management (14%), office (12%), sales (12%), and education (8%) related occupations, and about 76 percent of them are employed full-time in the labor force.  However, the study also showed that arts majors were the most likely to work part-time (24%) and most likely to be unemployed (8%) across all other major categories.

Additionally, the study measured the likelihood that a person in a specific major will obtain a graduate degree and the subsequent earnings boost that a graduate degree would confer. The report found that only 23 percent of people with undergraduate arts degrees pursue graduate degrees in art, and as a result get an average annual boost of 23 percent.

Despite these somewhat dismal findings with regard to the “economic value” of arts majors, data from our recently released 2010 National Arts Index indicates that both undergraduate and graduate degrees in the visual and performing arts are on the rise—having grown steadily over the past decade from 83,927 degrees awarded in 1999 to 127,557 in 2009, an increase of 52 percent.

This number proves that despite the commonly low median earnings tied to arts majors, there is still a significant demand for degrees in the arts.

For more information on the study or to read the full report visit: http://cew.georgetown.edu/whatsitworth/.

1 responses for What’s It Worth? The Value of a Bachelor’s Degree in the Arts


May 27, 2011 at 2:34 pm

I would love to see some comparison of this data over time - if only there was historical information available from the 1970s onwards. It would be very interesting to see how arts majors fare in different decades' economies.

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