Perusing a report, Higher Education Pays: But a Lot More for Some Graduates than for Others (pdf), we come across the following figure showing the post-graduation incomes of various degrees:
Basically, there’s no economic premium to be had with a biology degree (and chemistry doesn’t do that well either). But maybe this is a Texas-specific phenomenon? (Biologists, don’t mess with Texas!). Well…
OK, that’s only two states, right?
Gulp. From the report:
Politicians, policy makers, governors, and many others trumpet the need for STEM education to feed the STEM workforce. Despite such rhetoric and clamoring, the labor market is far more discriminating in the kinds of degrees it rewards. Data from College Measures show that employers are paying more—often far more—for degrees in the fields of technology, engineering, and mathematics (TEM). Evidence does not suggest that graduates with degrees in Biology earn a wage premium—in fact, they often earn less than English majors. Graduates with degrees in Chemistry earn somewhat more than Biology majors, but they do not command the wage premium typically sought by those who major in engineering, computer/information science, or mathematics.
Part of the problem is that a biology degree has essentially become a ‘pre-degree’, something one needs to attend various graduate schools (e.g., nursing school, med school, PhD school). Related to that point, the skills one learns might be very technically challenging, but aren’t necessarily applicable outside of biological research.
Of course, the other thing to note is that the massive ramping up of biology faculties (as opposed to decently paid researchers–not the same thing) means that they’ll be teaching more courses, making it easier to obtain a biology degree.
This is a very serious problem. For those students who don’t ultimately go on to graduate school of some sort, it seems to me that biology graduates don’t really have any particular skills employers want. Employers’ economic needs shouldn’t be driving biology curricula, but, at the same time, we need to be honest with undergraduates about the post-graduate economic realities of a biology degree, especially when so many students are taking on significant debt to receive that degree.