A report released this month by the Center on Education and the Workforce, a research entity affiliated with Georgetown’s McCourt School of Public Policy, has shown that although more students of color are pursuing a college education, they are highly concentrated in low-paying majors.

According to the study, which was released Feb. 9, African Americans make up 12 percent of the total population of the United States, but they are underrepresented in the nation’s fastest-growing, highest-paying jobs, which may be linked back to a student’s choice of major.

The study reported that African-American students have overwhelmingly chosen majors that traditionally lead to low-paying jobs since 2009, including majors like health administration, human services, community organization and social work. These industries typically generate yearly wages between $38,000 and $41,000.

Alternatively, relatively few African-American students study high-paying science, technology, engineering and math and business majors. Only 8 percent of general engineering majors, 7 percent of mathematics majors, and 5 percent of computer engineering majors are African-American.

CEW Director and co-author of the report Anthony P. Carnevale said in a press release that African Americans are concentrated in majors that may reward them in other, noneconomic ways.

“The low-paying majors that African Americans are concentrated in are of high social value but low economic value,” Carnevale wrote.

CEW Chief Economist Nicole Smith said African-American students may choose these majors based on their interests or because of the impact of others.

“We’re questioning if this is purely a decision that students are making for themselves based on their interests, or perhaps they are doing so because there is some amount of inertia, having followed in the footsteps of students before them, or maybe having professors guiding you and saying, ‘This what we think you’re suited for,’” Smith said.

Smith said discrimination in the workforce still exists.

“Even in 2015, we found that discrimination in pay still exists. We found that, for equivalently qualified students with the same level of education and who are working at the same occupation, we still have differences in pay that are not explained clearly by education level and clearly not explained by level of experiences,” Smith said.

According to Smith, the study of major selection and earnings specifically by African-American students was prompted by findings on previous studies conducted by the CEW that focused on majors as a whole.

The report said access to high-paying jobs is especially important for African Americans.

“This is especially important to a demographic group that historically has been deprived of opportunities and had fewer economic assets and resources making them especially vulnerable to the family stress created by economic ups and downs,” the report said.

According to the study, African Americans who choose majors that correlate with well-paying, growing industries are likely to find themselves with greater access to high-paying jobs and less trouble paying off their student loans.

Smith said the CEW produces its reports to help students make informed decisions.

“It’s really sort of a public service,” Smith said. “We want people to know that by choosing a certain major, this is the average wage that a person of that major earns.”

Carnevale said in an interview with The Hoya that students may be helped by improved career counseling.

“Meaningful career planning before college can provide transparency about major choice and potentially prevent onerous debt and underemployment down the road,” Carnevale said.

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  1. This is a nice way to gloss over one clearly negative aspect of affirmative action.

    Not all iterations of the “mismatch” hypothesis are well supported, but this one is. Blacks accepted into a selective universities with affirmative action programs are less likely to major in high aptitude STEM fields and more likely to major in less rigorous, “high social value” majors (whatever that means). There may be may some positive results from affirmative action, but this is a clearly one negative result since, as this article mentions, there is also evidence that suggests major selection matters more than school selectivity for future earnings. If you are concerned with racial gaps in income and wealth, this racial gap in STEM-majors should also concern you.


  2. Dr. Necessitor says:

    “The low-paying majors that African Americans are concentrated in are of high social value but low economic value,” Carnevale wrote.

    This is the trigger warning that should come with every critical theory based major.

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