African Americans are concentrated in majors with the lowest income potential, according to a study from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. Moreover, African Americans are underrepresented in college majors associated with the fastest-growing and highest-paying careers—science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields; health; and business, according to the report.
“The college major, which has critical economic consequences throughout life, reflects personal choices but also reflects the fact that African American students are concentrated in open-access four-year institutions where students have limited choices of majors offered,” according to the report, African Americans: College Majors and Earnings.
African Americans who majored in pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences and administration have the highest average earnings of any specific major—$84,000 per year, the report says. But African Americans account for only 6 percent of all degree holders in this health major, the report says. By contrast, African Americans account for 21 percent of health and medical administrative services majors—the lowest-paying health major averaging just $46,000 per year.
Meanwhile, African Americans who majored in civil, computer, mechanical, electrical, chemical, or industrial and manufacturing engineering earn between $68,000 and $76,000 per year. Yet African Americans account for only 3–6 percent of all degree holders in these engineering fields, which are among the top ten highest earning majors, the report says. By contrast, African Americans represent 10 percent of early childhood education majors and 20 percent of human services and community organization majors, the two lowest earning majors at $38,000 and $39,000 per year respectively. In fact, the “10 [sic] detailed majors with the highest percentage of African Americans … consist entirely of majors associated with earnings lower than $65,000” per year, as the table from the report shows below. The Georgetown report examines the average earnings and representation of African Americans in 137 specific majors grouped into fifteen general categories.
In general, African Americans disproportionately major in “intellectual and caring professions,” fields where low incomes do not necessarily reflect years of higher education, the Georgetown report says.
“The low-paying majors that African Americans are concentrated in are of high social value but low economic value,” says Anthony P. Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce and coauthor of the report.
Although the report acknowledges that personal choice contributes to such career differences, since students select their own fields of study, it stresses that “[c]areful career planning is especially crucial for African American students to help them avoid debt and underemployment later in life.”
A 2015 case study from the Alliance for Excellent Education on Xavier University of Louisiana’s summer bridge program for middle and high school students notes that “students of color aspire to major in STEM in college at the same rates as their white and Asian American peers.” At the same time, however, factors beyond personal choice―such as fewer opportunities to take advanced math and science course work in high school―may prevent students of color from pursuing those goals.
African Americans: College Majors and Earnings is available at https://cew.georgetown.edu/cew-reports/african-american-majors/.