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The Worst College Majors for Getting a Big Salary

For several decades, many parents and students alike assume a college degree puts then in a better long-term situation. Compared to those with only a high school diploma, students earning a college degree are believed to excel. Recent statistics support this belief with college educated students earning 67% more on average over their career. But as is often the case, the devil is in the details. Not all college majors are the same, and the economic value of college majors varies significantly. In fact, students pursuing the lowest-paying majors may be better off avoiding college altogether.

In the recent past, certain fields have been recognized as resulting in favorable salaries and incomes upon college graduation. This is particularly true today of all engineering majors who tend to earn strong salaries within five years of graduation. At the same time, however, it’s not surprising that the lowest-paying majors offer very little. Some actually provide incomes comparable to minimum wage jobs. Therefore, it’s essential that students examine the economic value of college majors before determining their life careers. The pursuit may simply not be worth the costs involved when all is said and done.

“Individual financial returns to college are the paramount consideration for most students. Almost all students say access to a well-paying job is a primary reason for attending college.” – Preston Cooper, Visiting Fellow at the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity

ROI – Examining Economic Value of College Majors

One way to determine whether a specific college major is worthwhile is to assess its return on investment (ROI). On average, attaining a college degree is reported to provide a ROI of roughly $300,000. This means the economic value of college majors overall tend to provide positive benefits compared to costs. But unfortunately, this claim doesn’t hold true for the lowest-paying majors. The figure also doesn’t account for the number of students who begin college but then dropout. If these considerations are included, the median ROI for college falls to just under $130,000. And notably, more than a quarter of college majors have a negative ROI.

When it comes to the economic value of college majors, there is a significant dichotomy. The gap between the highest-paying and lowest-paying majors is significant. Overall, 80% of all engineering programs have a ROI of over $500,000. In contrast, only 1% of some of the lowest-paying majors like psychology enjoy such a return. When all college majors are included, more than a third offer no significant benefit when one factors in the costs. With that in mind, the following provides a list of some of the lowest-paying majors that students may wish to avoid.

“From a financial perspective, the choice of program is much more important than the decision to attend college at all. Some programs leave students worse off financially than if they’d never attended college at all.” – Preston Cooper

  1. Social Services

    Recent reports note that social services are among the lowest-paying majors with a 5-year median pay of $34,000. Despite the need for such services, compensation remains low. Likewise, on-the-job experience may be equally worthwhile for many in the field.

  1. Performing Arts

    Theatre, dance, and other performing arts are many students’ passion. But unfortunately, the economic value of college majors in this are remain low as well. They too have a five-year median salary of roughly $34,000, which typically fails to cover all the costs involved.

  1. Anthropology

    The study of human behavior is quite intriguing. But when examining the economic value of college majors, this one is also among the worst. When factoring in opportunity costs, tuition, and other expenses, anthropology has a negative ROI.

  1. Childhood Development

    For those interested in early childhood development and education, this is a common college major. But it also ranks among the lowest-paying majors with early salaries under $30,000 annually. This is actually less than a minimum wage salary, which is $31,200 for those working 40-hour weeks.

  1. Health Technicians and Assistants

    The field of healthcare is often believed to offer great career opportunities and well-paying jobs. This is true for many healthcare professions, especially traveling nurses. (Read more about how traveling nurses are helping out with healthcare staffing shortages in this Bold story.) But medical assistants, pharmacy techs, and similar fields rank low in economic value of college majors. These too have a negative ROI.

  1. Culinary Arts

    Many students passionate about cuisines and cooking pursue culinary arts degrees. But despite the apparent demand for fine dining, this college degree is among the lowest-paying majors as well. Early salaries are less than $30,000, and mid-career earnings average about $42,000 a year.

  1. Psychology

    As noted, about 1% of those in psychology have a mid-career earning potential of $500,000 or more. Most, however, are earning closer to $37,000 five years into their career after college. While mental health services are needed, economic value of college majors in this field remain quite low.

  1. Office Management

    When it comes to office management, it might be better to invest in on-the-job experience rather than a college degree. For those with college degrees, mid-career salaries are around $41,000. Thus, when considering college expenses and lost wages while attending school, the investment isn’t likely worth it. Starting at an entry position and pursuing free online education may be a better approach.

  1. Radio/Television

    Given the various forms of entertainment today, the demand for radio and televisions majors have naturally declined. Thus, it may not be surprising that these are also among the lowest-paying majors for college. Basically, early salaries in this field are the same as minimum wage earnings. And mid-career salaries aren’t much better, hovering around $44,000.

  1. Leisure and Hospitality

    Travel and hospitality industries took a big hit during COVID. But these appear to be making a comeback as of late. Unfortunately, college pursuits offer low economic value of college majors in these fields. Though better than some, 5-year median salaries are only $38,000. Thus, these too provide negative ROI when all things are considered.


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The Future of Offices is Grim

In many parts of the country, a sense of normalcy is returning. Mask mandates have been relaxed in most places, concerts and other entertainment venues are again well attended, and many no longer fear COVID to the same degree given the success of vaccinations and advancing herd immunity. But that doesn’t mean everything will return to the way it was before the pandemic. Remote retail purchases continue to be the norm as does delivery services. And as previously reported, the vast majority of workers prefer remote work or hybrid working arrangements over full-time attendance. It’s this trend in particular that raises questions about the future of offices and the traditional work week.

(Have you read Bold’s survey and analysis over the remote work debate? Check it out here!)

The traditional five-day work week has been a permanent fixture in society for many decades. The 9-to-5, Monday-through-Friday work schedule is something most of us have assumed would be permanent. But currently, in-office attendance is only a third of what it was before the pandemic. These shortcomings are not a reflection of COVID concerns or restrictions but instead worker preferences. More than 90 percent of workers today prefer remote or hybrid working arrangements. And given the fact many industries are facing worker shortages, their preferences matter. This is why many experts believe the future of offices will no longer involve a five-day work week.

“Mondays and Tuesday are the fastest-growing days of the week for travel. More people are treating ordinary weekends like long holiday weekends.” – Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb

Signs of Change for the Future of Offices

For many knowledge workers today, there has already been a shift away from the traditional work week. As a result of hybrid working arrangements, many now only show up in the office on Tuesdays through Thursdays. Mondays and Fridays account for the most common days where employees work from home. This shift has resulted in some interesting trends. As noted by Brian Chesky of Airbnb, travel on these flex-days has increased substantially. Rather than having to wait until 5pm on a Friday to leave town, workers are traveling while they work. Once given a taste of this flexibility, it will be difficult to convince many to go back.

Current projections suggest that workers will spend about a quarter of their time at home each work week over the next decade. This is a significant increase over pre-pandemic levels. What this means is that there will be some blurring of the lines when it comes to work time and play time. However, it doesn’t mean that productivity will necessarily decline. In fact. Workers in hybrid working arrangements continue to improve in self-reported productivity. And many find they work some hours on days typically considered the weekend. The bottom line is that work time will no longer be so compartmentalized but instead more fluid.

“Office occupancy has plummeted, but corporate demand for office space is down only about 1 percent. That might sound shocking, but it’s because so many companies planning for hybrid work are expecting most of the office to be in on some days of the week, so they can’t shrink their space.” – Nick Bloom, Economics Professor, Stanford University

The Impact of Flexible Work Weeks on Office Space

The loss of a traditional five-day work week has some important implications for the future of offices. On the one hand, office space will be less utilized when looking at utilization over the week, month or year. But at the same time, workers with hybrid working arrangements will still require companies to hold onto current square footage. This means they will have few options for downsizing unless they choose to go all-in on remote work. Currently, only about 5% of companies are pursuing this approach. Therefore, it suggests many businesses will need to become more creative in how they utilize their space.

A ghost walking into an office
The future of offices is made grim thanks to employees’ desire for remote work and employees accommodating them with hybrid work.

One of the reasons many companies are hesitant to go fully remote involves worker effects. Virtual interactions among employees limits peer cohesion and opportunities for mentoring. Despite the advantages of flexibility that hybrid working arrangements offer, these are some downsides. Given the challenges many industries face in retaining talent, many companies want to preserve that in-office social “glue” among staff. Thus, some will likely experiment to new office designs that offer greater appeal to remote workers. Instead of a typical office setting, the future of offices may look a lot more inviting and entertaining. Using extra space to meet these needs might be the right approach in the coming years.

“Difficulties in forming connections with peers and mentors generates a sense of drift for many new employees, leading them to be more open to moving jobs.” – Lawrence Katz, Professor of Economics, Harvard University

The Ripple Effects of Hybrid Working Arrangements

Most workers today with hybrid working arrangements are white-collar, knowledge workers. Because they can easily utilize technologies to work remotely, they enjoy new flexibilities in their work weeks. But in the wake of the pandemic, many others prefer remote and hybrid work as well. Many healthcare workers, including nurses, now prefer four-day work weeks with extended time off. Other industries are seeing on-site employees requesting greater flexibility in days and hours as well. All of this means significant changes in how work schedules evolve in time.

Understanding this, the future of offices and their work weeks will also change the future of urban landscapes. Many fear that empty spaces will cause revenue declines for major cities. Businesses that rely on on-site workers could slowly disappear as a result. But in most cases, these urban destinations are still highly appealing despite hybrid working arrangements. Property values continue to increase in major urban areas. The difference is that urban activities are expanding beyond the weekend and into the weekdays. Based on this, the disappearance of the traditional work week won’t likely mean an urban demise. It will probably lead to some interesting shifts that make these destinations even more attractive. In short, recent trends suggest the five-day work-week’s time in the sun is fading. What will follow is anyone’s guess.


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The Gut Health/Long COVID Connection

COVID-19 has infected millions of people throughout the world. In the process, hundreds of thousands of those infected have died while others were fortunate enough to survive. Yet not all of the COVID-19 survivors have done so well. According to some statistics, roughly 40% of those who survive the infection develop long-COVID symptoms. Such symptoms persist long after the initial infection is over and involve a variety of frustrating complaints. Scientists have been baffled as to why some people struggle with this and why others don’t. But recent research now suggests the problem may lie within the gut microbiome in COVID-19 long-haulers. In fact, more than one study suggests COVID-19 may have a significant effect on gut health.

(Read more about the effects the initial COVID infection has on gut health in this Bold story.)

When it comes to our immune system, several organs house important cells that attack infectious organisms. The spleen, lymph nodes, and thymus are organs many may recognize as being vital to immune system development. But roughly 75% of the body’s immune cells lie within the intestinal system. Given this, it’s not that farfetched to believe changes to the gut microbiome in COVID-19 could cause lasting effects. This notion is actually what led researchers to explore changes in the microbiome among those with long-COVID symptoms. And their work could lead to new considerations in how to manage COVID long-haulers in the future.

“There are suggestions that the innate immune system may be overstimulated from COVID. It’s not clear why, but after SARS-CoV-2 has cleared, the immune system seems to still be active.” – John P. Haran, MD, PhD., UMass Chan Medical School

An Overview of Long-COVID Symptoms

When it comes to COVID-19 infections, the spikey virus is known to impact the respiratory system quite profoundly. The initial strain of the virus tended to involve the lower respiratory tract to a greater degree. This led to more serious illnesses in many who suffered existing conditions affecting the heart and lungs. It also explained why many lost their sense of smell. Subsequent variants appear to be less severe, and the latest Omicron variant more commonly causes upper respiratory complaints. But as far as long-COVID symptoms go, many symptoms have nothing to do with the respiratory system. Instead, they tend to include a wide variety of issues.

Among those called COVID lang-haulers, some of the most common complaints are rather vague. Fatigue and sleepiness are extremely common among these patients. Likewise, many complain of a brain fog, suggesting neurological effects from the virus. Other symptoms common to this group also involve insomnia, headaches, and muscle aches. Previous theories regarding long-COVID symptoms thought the virus may have left behind some permanent damage in these organs. This may indeed be the case still. But what also now appears to be evident is that the virus also affects the gut microbiome in COVID-19 long-haulers. And some believe this may be a common pathway for many if not all of the lasting complaints in these individuals.

“A pro-inflammatory microbiome could lead to prolonged symptoms even after the virus is cleared. It’s also possible that in some individuals, COVID drives a change in the microbiome toward a pro-inflammatory profile, which leads to prolonged symptoms.”- Evan S. Bradley, MD, PhD., at UMass Chan Medical School

Oral Microbiome Research and Long-COVID Symptoms

When considering the gut microbiome in COVID-19, the entire gastrointestinal tract is being considered. This includes the collection of bacteria and organisms that line the upper gastrointestinal tract including the oral cavity. With this in mind, researchers at UMASS Chan Medical School recently studied this portion of the gut microbiome in COVID-19 patients. Over a 9 month period, they evaluated 84 patients with COVID. Of which 27 had long-COVID symptoms. Using genomic sequencing and advanced algorithms, they determined the make-up of each patient’s oral microbiome.

A cartoon intestinal tract talking about germs
Thanks to a couple years of data, we now know that long-COVID symptoms are tied in some regard to gut health.

Notably, the researchers did not explore the gut microbiome in COVID-19 individuals in its entirety. But even within the patients’ oral microbiome, hundreds of bacterial types still existed and required profiling. When they had finished their analysis, they found something quite interesting. Among those with long-COVID symptoms, there were 19 specific bacterial organisms unique to this group. In other words, they were not present in COVID individuals without long-COVID symptoms or in those without COVID infections. The results thus suggested that changes to the oral microbiome could account for long-hauler COVID presentations.

“Altered gut microbiome composition is strongly associated with persistent symptoms in patients with COVID-19 up to 6 months after clearance of SARS-CoV-2 virus.” – Professor Siew C. Ng, Department of Medicine and Therapeutics, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

The Latest Research in the Gut Microbiome in COVID-19

Additional studies have found similar discoveries in relation to the gut microbiome in COVID-19. In another trial, researchers at the Chinese University in Hong Kong followed 106 patients with COVID for 6 months. The collected stool samples and measured aerobic capacity and endurance in these individuals as well as in 68 individuals without COVID. Of those with the infection, 80% developed long-COVID symptoms. And their stool sample profiles were quite different from the others followed.

In those with long-COVID symptoms, marked disruption in their gut microbiome was noted. Specifically, they had a marked increase in what was considered “unfriendly” bacteria with nearly all the “friendly” bacteria lacking. This was in distinct contrast to normal subjects and those without long-COVID symptoms, who showed normal profiles. The researchers also noted that those receiving the coronavirus vaccine had no real protection from long-COVID symptoms. They concluded their results further supported the gut microbiome in COVID-19 as being the source of the problem in long-haulers.

A Window to Future Discoveries

The latest scientific investigations look to be increasingly implicating the gut microbiome as a key target in long-COVID symptoms. If the coronavirus indeed damages the cells of the microbiome, then it’s easy to appreciate how this could cause lasting complaints. Given that our microbiome is important to digestion, metabolism, and immune function, a variety of symptoms could result. Therefore, further studies are needed to clarify these relationships and to explore potential remedies. Ultimately, the answer may involve therapies like probiotics that can restore a healthy microbiome to affected COVID-19 patients. And these same therapies might help address many other unexplained health conditions beyond COVID-19 as well.


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