Salary Reports Could Point to Next Skill Wave

Opportunities to get paid versus paying it forward might be a differentiator for future graduates’ choice in majors.

New college salary reports show that making a difference and making money don’t always go in hand. Learning leaders take note: Future millennial employees can choose what skills they learn in college based on whether they want a large paycheck or to play a role in changing the world.’s annual College Salary Report listed majors by how much their subsequent careers pay. Petroleum engineering topped the list with a mid-career salary of $176, 300. Following it in second and third place were actuarial mathematics and nuclear engineering, respectively.

STEM fields aren’t rare on the best-paid list — nine out of the top 10 have “engineering” in the title — which means there’s a good chance the lure of more money might boost how many students start looking at those skillsets. Students are already inundated with the importance of STEM from initiatives like President Obama’s “Educate to Innovate” campaign and private programs sponsored by corporations like Exxon Mobile.

But money isn’t everything, especially to Gen Y, a demographic known for wanting to make a difference through their work. Another aspect of the salary report group’s research might point in a different direction.

Payscale’s College Salary Report of the Most Meaningful Majors looks at how college graduates feel their major-driven career has influenced the lives of others. Pastoral ministry came in first with 93 percent of respondents saying they felt they had made the world a better place in their work, followed by child development, which came last in mid-career earnings in Payscale’s “most valuable” list.

So will it be money or influence that steers future college students to develop certain skills? Only time — and graduation demographics — will tell.