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It has been said that within civil society “tell me where the money goes and I’ll tell you what that society values.”

Well, as a society, according to the latest rankings of where the money is — we are screwed up. While we appear to value college majors focused on the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) majors, we completely under-value the majors that focus on human services, education, literacy, children, and our public wild lands and natural resources.

Christmas 2014 Comanche power plant. Photo by Allen Best.

This is not to say that STEM education is not important – it is, and that focus is sure to yield great scientific and engineering advancements that can help humankind. But it should be pointed out that the future of our region, our country, and our world, is contingent upon the children of the world; and we aren’t valuing the professions or the people charged with teaching and supporting them.

The very idea that the highest-paying career is petroleum engineering at a time when the world desperately needs to reduce its carbon emissions from greenhouse gases to slow the impacts of rising global temperatures — could be considered by some to be slightly obscene.

As a region dependent upon outdoor recreation and surrounded by natural resources as well as a high wildfire danger, the idea that wildland management is so undervalued is a concerning reality that may have future consequences.

It’s summer before the start of the fall college semester and hundred of thousands of college-bound students are deciding on the college major that could end up defining the rest of their lives. Analysts at the scholarship website Scholaroo, as part of its yearly study of college majors, have just reviewed the 103 most popular majors across the U.S. to find out which majors have the highest and lowest earning potential.

Calling the list “This year’s best and worst-paying majors” (their definition of “best” is based on money, and does not appear to take into account job satisfaction, its contribution to society, or its impact good or bad on future generations)  includes this is their list:

Tree hugging, as children express their delight at learning in an outdoor environment of the Lake County Schools 2nd Day program Image by Rachael LePoidevin

(In order of ranking listed along with its median salary)

1. Petroleum Engineering — $187,300
2. Computer & Information Sciences — $140,900
3. Pharmacology & Toxicology — $138,700
4. Chemical Engineering — $135,900
5. Actuarial Science — $134,400
6. Computer Engineering — $131,000
7. Nuclear Engineering — $129,400
8. Electrical Engineering — $125,800
9. Astronomy & Astrophysics — $125,400
10. Applied Mathematics — $122,000
11. Aerospace, Aeronautical, & Astronautical Engineering — $121,200
12. Physics — $119,700
13. Industrial Engineering — $117,400
14. Economics — $115,700
14. Pharmaceutical Sciences & Administration — $115,700
16. Materials Engineering — $115,200
17. Civil Engineering — $109,000
18. Mathematics — $108,700
19. Construction Management — $108,000
20. Finance — $105,200


103. Early Childhood Education — $45,400
102. Social Work — $50,390
101. Middle School Education — $50,800
100. Child Development — $51,400
99. Elementary School Education — $53,800
98. Special Education — $57,000
97. Legal Studies — $57,100
96. Library Science — $58,700
95. Wildlife & Wildlands — $59,800
94. Geography & Cartography — $60,389