The Cost of Doing Good Works

Reporters at the University of Texas at Austin’s paper looked into the school’s majors, and what the payoff from them turns out to be. It’s pretty grim.

According to an article by Nadia Macias at The Horn:

The worst paying degree? Child and Family Studies. On average, starting pay was $29,500. At mid-career, the average salary was only $38,400.

Here at the University of Texas at Austin, the degree is under the School of Human Ecology and known as Human Development and Family Sciences. About 270 undergraduates are currently enrolled under this plan. According to UT’s 2008-10 undergraduate catalog, the discipline “focuses on the study of human development, individuals in a family context, relationships, and well-being within the family and the broader social, economic, community, and governmental environment”.

Interestingly, the second and third worst-paying degrees also involved children and family improvement: elementary education and social work. Elementary education received an average starting pay of $31,600 with social work close behind at $31,800. Although their salary is low, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts no negative changes in the demand for these positions through 2018. Elementary education employment is expected to grow at an average of 13%. Employment for social workers is expected to rise by 16%, faster than average for all occupations. UT Austin’s School of Social Work has over 800 undergraduates and graduate currently working toward degrees. With a desire to help improve lives, curriculum topics include mental illness, substance abuse, health behavior interventions, grief and loss and domestic violence.

Despite the depressing news ($38,400 for a mid-career salary) there are no surprises here. The lowest paying majors are those directly connected to the lowest paying professions, specifically, companies and organizations that don’t actually generate money.

No matter what creative payment plans politicians can dream up, the fact remains that teachers and social workers will not be able to actually generate money. This is an essentially permanent damper on higher pay.

To a certain extent this is appropriate. People who graduate from college intending to “focus on the study of human development, individuals in a family context, relationships, and well-being within the family and the broader social, economic, community, and governmental environment” don’t expect to make much money. If they wanted to make more there are always other options.

That being said, it costs just about as much (approximately $10,000 a year in-state tuition) to earn an undergraduate degree from the University of Texas in child and family services as it does to earn one connected to a more lucrative major like, say, engineering or economics. This will probably never change much.

What has changed is the amount students pay to earn these degrees. In the long run this has a disturbing potential to limit the amount of talented, middle-class people available for low-paying (though very important) professions.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer