Thursday, May 13, 2010

Save The Drama For Your Mamma

Virtue is its own reward, goes the old saying…and apparently college kids who major in drama do it because they love the theatre. Most of them are aware they’re not likely going to get rich because they have a degree in drama. For every Denzel Washington or Meryl Streep there are hundreds of thousands of people with drama degrees who will not likely earn more than about 56 grand a year, tops, during the best years of their career. And they’ll start at a bit over 36 grand a year if they’re lucky enough to find a job.

Drama is the worst-paying college degree according to the Yahoo hot jobs survey, and just one notch above it is a fine arts degree, which pays only slightly more on average for starting salary and mid-career earnings.

But, college is not a training ground. And there’s much more to life than a fat paycheck. Still, the average college grad earns 20 grand a year more on average than someone without a degree. Engineering graduates tend to earn the biggest salaries, and that’s been true for some time. It’s confirmed just about every year by the website if you’d like to check for yourself.

Third-worst on this year’s list of earning power for college degrees is hospitality and tourism. But it’s hard to get a handle on the “real” pay now, because the industry is so far down in the recession, and the perks of many hospitality and tourism jobs offset the lower pay.

Fourth-worst on the list is no shocker….education. The average starting teacher pay is just above 36 grand, and with a bachelor’s degree only, teachers can expect to make just over 54 grand in the middle of their career. But the Bureau of Labor Statistics says the demand for teachers will grow by 14% over the next decade – hard to believe, when so many school districts, like Madison, are in the midst of cutting teachers and budget.

Horticulture is next on the list, but like drama, teaching, and the hospitality industry, horticulture grads know they’re not likely to make a lot of money.

A degree in Spanish will get you a job as a translator, and maybe a teacher, but not much money. It’s next on the list. A degree in music is similar – except the starting pay is slightly lower. And it’s a field like acting: a few make a lot of money. Most scrape by.

Eighth from the bottom is theology, but, as the folks at Yahoo say, it’s the perfect example of the degree earned by someone who’s not in it for the money. Ninth from the bottom is a degree in elementary education, where your starting pay will be about 33 grand, and if you don’t get a master’s degree, you’ll probably never make more than about 42 grand.

And tenth from the bottom is a degree in social work, but again, people who gravitate toward this profession understand that you don’t get rich by helping other people.

I spent most of my professional life in a career where a college degree means absolutely nothing: on-air broadcasting. One of my friends who’s a big-time broadcast consultant says it’s a business for kids who got “B’s” in high school.

But there’s always room for an “A” student in a “B” student’s business.


  1. It's sad that we as a society regard the arts as having so little value. Our system rewards avaricious bankers and bungling captains of industry with millions of dollars, even as we're laying off teachers. We beggar ourselves.

  2. Well, now I know why I went into radio--all those B's in school. Once I wised up, I left full-time broadcasting to go into education. I'd already taken a vow of poverty, so I figured I wouldn't know the difference.

  3. hieronymous,

    >> Our system rewards avaricious bankers and bungling captains of industry with millions of dollars, even as we're laying off teachers. <<

    It's still a numbers game: there are a lot more small business people than there are the pyramid of performance starts out with a larger base, leading to more people at the top. As George Bush said in another context, the pie is higher.

    The number of teachers is also related to the number of children. All over the state of Wisconsin there's a decline in enrollment in elementary schools. Neenah has closed two or three elementary schools in the past several years alone. The number of teachers necessarily has to follow.

    As to the value of the arts, it's still the same as it has been for the past umpteen centuries: those that appreciate art will pay for it. Art is worth what someone is willing to pay...nothing more, nothing less. If we start to place a "value" on art then watch the number of sculptors of ugly public statues made from car parts that'll come out of the woodwork like cockroaches.

    The Town Crank