Earning curve

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What good is a college degree in philosophy or history or another area of liberal arts? That question crosses the minds of many students and their parents, especially in an era of heavy student debt. The pressure often is on students to see college as a trade school: Major in something that routes directly to a job!

Thankfully, the Association of American Colleges and Universities has released a report that should ease the concern. The organization advocates for liberal art schools. Yet the telling thing is the quality of its numbers, drawn from the 2010 and 2011 American Community Survey.

No surprise that engineering students do well financially from their 20s into their peak earning years of the late 50s. Liberal arts graduates start off slow, yet by their late 50s, they have made up much ground, with median annual pay of $66,185, or two-thirds of what an engineering grad earns.

Isolate those who complement their liberal arts diploma with a law or other professional degree, and the gap narrows further.

Then, again, college isn’t just about the money. It brings compensation in the shape of knowledge and experience. The comfort in the numbers is that there is real earning power in a philosophy degree. It just may come a bit slowly and involve an unexpected path.

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