William Broman is a biomedical engineering major at George Washington University. He can be reached on Twitter @bromanw.
As the United States enters 2012, a growing number of college graduates are being held back with student loan debt. In fact, the average graduating student has to repay $25,250, which can take years if a student majored in a low-paying subject.
The answer is science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
Using data from CNBC, Crisp360.com created an infographic about which degrees are worth the debt that students accrue during college. It reports that the starting salary for a petroleum engineering major is more than $85,000. The graphic also shows that under President Obama's proposed "Income-Based Repayment" plan, it would take 86 months for a psychology major earning the average starting salary of $35,000 to repay the average student loan debt of $25,250. Conversely, it would take just under three years for a petroleum engineering major to pay off his/her same debt. What does this mean? As a society, by pushing students into the STEM subjects, we can reduce the time student loan debt is carried by individuals.
The developers of elementary, middle, and high school curriculums need to be focused on pushing students toward mathematics and the physical sciences by providing insight into the many opportunities available in STEM fields.
One way to get students interested in these fields is to inform them of the money they can make with their degrees. Money entices people to work harder, and while money can't buy happiness, it can buy a lot of the cool gadgets that youth are fascinated with.
Why are professional sports so enticing for a lot of our nation's youth? Athletes get paid millions of dollars to play hockey, baseball, football, or basketball as their job. The average NFL player made $1.9 million in 2010, but the average career lasts only 3.5 years.
Many Fortune 500 CEOs are in their 50s and have been receiving similar compensation for most of their careers. They never have to risk losing their job due to a busted knee or too many concussions. If students focus on academics, specifically in STEM, they have a good chance of finding a high-paying, safe job—they might even end up owning the sports teams they dreamed of playing on.
It is not my intention to skew reality and say that an entry-level petroleum engineer will soon be commanding a multimillion-dollar compensation package. But it's easy to see that earning $85,000 per year will allow you to get out of debt faster than earning $35,000 per year.
The focus of our education system in 2012 should be STEM. Students majoring in STEM fields are less likely to have the burdens associated with student loan debts that others will inevitably encounter. Getting students excited about STEM at an early age by showcasing the possible career paths is of great importance if we as a society hope to lead the way in math and science. We will create more innovative individuals who will help secure the United States' status as a world superpower.