Publisher's note: The James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal is a nonprofit institute dedicated to improving higher education in North Carolina and the nation. Located in Raleigh, North Carolina, it has been an independent 501(c)(3) organization since 2003. It was known as the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy until early January 2017.
The author of this post is Anthony Hennen.
With new data on student debt and earnings released by the Department of Education, high school graduates can make better decisions about which school and major they choose. Looking at the data for East Carolina University, most graduates get a useful degree without too much debt-but there are a few caveats.
First, the data pertains only to graduates; ECU's six-year graduation rate is 65 percent. Enrolling isn't enough. The College Scorecard
data is also new and doesn't cover all majors; it has data on 42 majors, but 23 others were hidden for privacy reasons. The data isn't complete or definitive, but it gives the public a rough idea of how graduates do in their first year after college-when they start repaying their loans.
The best median debt-to-earnings ratios at ECU, where students have lower debt relative to their salary, cluster in engineering, medical, and business-related majors:
- Computer and Information Sciences
- Registered Nursing, Nursing Administration, Nursing Research and Clinical Nursing
- Engineering Technologies/Technicians
- Industrial Production Technologies/Technicians
- Business Operations Support and Assistant Services
- Computer Science
- Management Information Systems and Services
- Accounting and Related Services
- Finance and Financial Management Services
The top majors have a median debt of $25,000, but median earnings of $54,000 after graduation. Just below the top 10 majors are some surprising fields: Marketing, chemistry, special education, teacher education, and history all have good debt-to-earnings ratios, though teaching and history are not renowned for their economic value.
From the available data, only a handful of majors at ECU load up students with more debt than their earnings after graduation:
- Human Development and Family Studies
- Romance Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics
- English Language and Literature
- Fine and Studio Arts
- Drama/Theatre Arts and Stagecraft
The stereotype of the starving artist and poor English graduate, it appears, holds true, relatively speaking. The bottom majors have a median debt of $26,500-only slightly higher than the top-earning majors-but median earnings of $22,200 after graduation.
Those majors, however, might not be the lowest-earning ones. Data is unavailable for majors such as ethnic studies, area studies, dance, and Germanic literature and languages. The high-earnings majors also might not be the best overall. The available data only shows a limited picture.
Overall, for graduates, East Carolina has given them an education that won't leave them with too much debt. The average graduate leaves ECU with about $25,000 in debt and earns almost $33,000 at their first job. While that debt isn't negligible and students who don't earn a degree struggle more to repay loans, the data show that graduates get what most of them want: a degree that leads to a decent job.
To see an interactive chart with each major labeled, please click HERE
Anthony Hennen is managing editor of the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.