Are All STEM Degrees Worth the Time and Money?

Is a STEM degree worth getting?

For years, researchers and technology leaders have argued that the answer to that question is an emphatic “yes.” Not only is increased STEM education a stated goal of the U.S. Department of Education, but many of tech’s largest companies are pouring considerable money and resources into educational programs for math and science.

But a new data analysis highlighted by The New York Times suggests that not all STEM degrees are created equal. Edward Lazowska, a professor of computer science at the University of Washington, broke down Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) forecasts and concluded that 73 percent of STEM growth over the next seven years will take place in computer-related fields.

Michael S. Teitelbaum, an “expert on science and education policy” interviewed in the Times article, took things a step further, suggesting that tech firms are (in the article’s paraphrasing) doing a disservice “when they raise the alarm that America is facing a worrying shortage of STEM workers, based on shortages in a relative handful of fast-growing fields.” Those fields include artificial intelligence (A.I.) and data analytics.

Indeed, a visualization generated by the Times (based on data from the BLS and the National Center for Education Statistics) shows computer science as the only major STEM area with demand to match graduation rates, outpacing mathematical sciences, physical sciences, life sciences, and even engineering.

If those numbers hold true, it’s not great news for certain kinds of STEM majors. For those involved in tech, though, consistent demand for the next seven years could confer a certain peace of mind.

How much are STEM graduates actually earning? In June, Carlos Rodriguez, CEO of payroll-processing giant ADP, told Fortune that graduates with STEM degrees could expect to pull down as much as $65,000 during their first few years on the workforce. “Employers are definitely going to be on the offensive here trying to find people,” he added.

Dice’s annual Salary Survey, meanwhile, suggests that tech professionals in key markets can expect to earn six-figure salaries. Many of the jobs that come with those salaries, of course, require an advanced math or science degree of some sort (if not multiple degrees, in some cases). Even outside of those “hot” markets, programmers and other computer-science experts are reliably in demand.

Yes, some STEM-related industries are plagued with serious issues, from flat-lining wages to a relative lack of jobs. But for those in computer science, the next few years might prove rather fruitful from an employment perspective.

14 Responses to “Are All STEM Degrees Worth the Time and Money?”




  2. wageSlave

    I always find this topic amusing. The tech industry wants the government to bail it out for a very successful wage suppression policy implementation that is adversely affecting the supply of stem workers. Supply equilibrium occurs at a price point. Suppress the price below that price point and you create a shortage. That is the economic definition of a shortage. Basic price theory. You can blame everything under the sun for the stem shortages, but the root cause will always be market driven. The tech leaders are victims of their own success crying for government handouts for unintended consequences.

  3. This article is very broad and I honestly don’t really trust it. Seems like it’s just trying to stir the pot. The reality is, programming is a very time consuming process and also can be very frustrating and irritating, and quite frankly no man or woman’s time is worth being spent working 50-60 hours a week programming at a computer with minimal breaks and basically no life. What’s the point of making six figures if you yourself are miserable? Why even work for all of that money when you won’t be able to truly enjoy it because you won’t ever have the time? Or you could have a family or a wife or girlfriend and just give all of the money to them to create more cancer of the earth of lazy spoiled poop taster kids. Pitiful.

  4. Hilarious. Absolutely hilarious. First of all, while getting a STEM degree is better than one in “gender studies”, there is NO shortage of STEM workers. And an area that is “hot” today may not be in 6 months. DICE is overflowing with articles about the “hottest” skill, the “hottest” program, the “top” companies, etc. This doesn’t help the typical tech job holder and job hunter. And DICE, remember that most tech workers do NOT live or work in the “hot” metro areas. Solid career articles are much more helpful.

  5. I have a B.S. in nuclear engineering, and am all but a thesis short of an M.S. in mechanical engineering. I am now working for $9/hour as a “security officer”.

    As John Belushi famously said in the movie “Animal House”, “7 years of college down the drain.”

    I was pulling down only $94,000, but a woman that I personally hired didn’t like not being coddled, so I was edged out of my job for a total BS reason, and was forced to move, with my wife, to a crappy old house that SHE could afford, while I went to work as a rent-a-cop. Nice treatment for a 16-year employee.

    All I needed was a high school diploma for this job.

    So much for a secure job with the State to retire from (I have 58 years, and was hoping to retire from the old job. Oh well…)

    The only good from this is that I am now again contributing to Social Insecurity, so I might find some money left in either my pension or social security; sort of hedging my bets?

    • Dang, security jobs pay only $9/hr? I have an MSEE and am working at a grocery store for $13/hr. Yes, outsourcing and crony capitalism created extra tech workers.

      Scott, I suggest you move up the ladder to a grocery job or maybe even a driver. Those jobs may soon be gone too with autonomous vehicles, but may last till you’re 65.

  6. No. Stem degrees are not worth the time and money. My bachelor degree in computer science has proven to be worse than useless.

    I was sold on the idea that jobs paying at least $50k per hear would be waiting for me, when I finished it, and that I would be making $80k or more per year, with it, in a relatively short period of time.

    In reality, it took me several months, after graduating, to find work that I could have gotten without the degree. I’ve been lucky enough to find jobs paying a little over $40k per year (with overtime — that I could have also gotten without a degree).

    I’ve also been unemployed for about as much as I’ve been employed; via layoffs and other unfortunate events that were not in my control.

    I’ve known many others who are in the same boat, and I’ve even known people who have migrated from North America to countries with a lower cost of living; so they could live on what they were able to earn with their software development skills.

    Businesses and institutions that fraudulently claim there is a huge demand for people with tech skills, when the market says otherwise, are young people a huge disservice; by encouraging them to take on tens of thousands of dollars in student debt (that they won’t be able to repay), and waste several years of their lives; to earn degrees that will help them get jobs that don’t exist. (Holy run-on sentence, Batman!) What they’re doing might not be against the law, but it’s certainly criminal.

  7. Pat Trundle

    Simply if you are a Caucasian male with a completely devalued Bachelors degree. You are screwed. Best retrain as a plumber as they haven’t figured out a way to outsource snaking toilets to Shenzhen.

  8. J++… The reason salaries have sstagnated is that the large tech companies are using offshore labor through H-1, L-1, B-1 visas… especially through the L-1/B-1 loophole to bring in people that will gratefully (and for good reason) accept $60K/year which happens to be the minimum for an H-1 visa holder.

    What should help is the push from the current administration to push the limit to $100K/year. When Apple or Google or Amazon talk about the shortage of people to hire, they are talking about the shortage of people to exploit at 80 hour work weeks and the minimum tech salary (aka your $60K/year until they drop out or become hardened into someone that fits the company mold and can work in the matrix).

    Very darwinian… but they have gamed the system to lower the price and impact US citizens. The darwinian part is legal… the gaming has not been but they have successfully used their influence and lobbying power to avoid consequences. Lot of that going on over the last 8 years.