It Pays to Be Smart

From The Atlantic; A new study finds that nine of the 10 most lucrative degrees in America are in computer science programs at elite colleges.

And no degree in America is more valuable than a computer-science major at Stanford, Columbia, or Berkeley. Notably, the most valuable non-computer-science major in the country is also at Stanford: economics.


Why are so many people up in arms over reality: that STEM majors from prestigious, elite schools earn more money. Yes, if you cannot find work an Ivy League STEM degree does you no good, but this applies to every major and school. But elite graduates in STEM fields have better career prospects than everyone else. There wouldn’t be so much competition for these schools if there weren’t any benefits over, say, a no-name state college. I guess the left interprets their own personal frustrations and employment struggles as indicative of the entire system being broken. The left wants crisis because it will level the playing field by making everyone equally worse off, which will especially hurt the wealthy. The rational optimist in me says the system, for all it’s flaws, does a pretty good job rewarding merit & intelligence and creating wealth.

Someone replied:

It pays to be lucky in the type of degree that you get. Good timing is important. Supply and Demand is important.

Future Nobel Prize winner Einstein couldn’t find a job. Through a friend he got a job at the Swiss Patent Office. Even after his famous 1905 papers it took until 1909 before he could quit.

Future Nobel Prize winner Paul Dirac was unemployed as an Electrical Engineering graduate of Bristol University. Fortunately, Bristol gave him free additional Math education and eventually he got enough scholarship money to go to Cambridge.

Location can also be helpful. Columbia Computer Science majors may benefit from being a subway ride away from Wall Street and Corporate HQs which might mean easier interviewing, more corporate recruiting, part-time jobs and summer jobs.

My response: all else being equal, a physics PHD from a top school has more income potential than someone without such degree. Einstein initially could not find a job, but nowadays someone as smart as Einstein could be picked up by a hedge fund, among many other high paying, intellect-demanding careers. Even if there is initially a skill mismatch, having a PHD in a hard science indicates a ability to learn and synthesize information quickly, and efficiency- a skill sought by virtually all employers. He could be brought up to speed very quickly to meet the demands of the employer. There is a much greater premium on smarts than 100 years ago.

Basic people skills and knowing how to market yourself to find a job is also important, irrespective of the degree.

Furthermore, the unemployment rate for those with even a college degree is under 4 percent, and in 2008, science and engineering doctorate holders up to three years out of school had just 1.5 percent unemployment.

The left has been fanning the flames of crisis about student loans for years. The average debt per student is only $23k, not the $200k+ figure commonly quoted by the doom and gloomers. It’s funny how the left, originally champions of higher education , have now turned against it; always blaming the student loan companies, the colleges, employers, the govt., etc. instead of the student for making poor career choices. But why the hostility against elite schools, and STEM majors in particular? Due to the limited number of spots, these schools screen for high IQ applicants, and the idea that some people are innately intellectually better than others challenges their sacrosanct blank slate view of human biology. Secondly, they earn more money, which goes against their belief in equal outcomes.

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