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Economic impact: Look for the careers with high job opportunities

Originally published on July 8, 2013 in the Richmond Times Dispatch.

Many high school graduates and rising high school seniors are making plans that will impact their work-related opportunities when they graduate from college.

While interest is certainly an important component of career choice, it should be balanced with job opportunities.

Photographers and actors are two careers that high school students think about, but job opportunities are scarce in those fields.

Based on estimates from Chmura Economics & Analytics, 215 photographers work for firms in the Richmond area along with another 363 who are sole proprietors.

On the other hand, an average 538 registered nurses are needed each year in the metro area to fill new jobs or those vacated by retirees or people moving to another occupation.

Along with nurses, accountants and bookkeepers are among the top 10 occupations needed by businesses in the Richmond metropolitan area over the next decade.

Another factor that might help students narrow their career choice is potential earnings.

The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia recently started providing the average first-year earnings (based on the last five years) by degree level along with the earnings by institution where the degree was awarded.

This database consists of graduates employed in Virginia and is not adjusted for the regional cost of living.

There is significant variation by degree and even for the same degree awarded at different institutions.

Registered nurses with a bachelor’s degree earned an average $48,959 for their first year working in the state. Graduates from the University of Virginia at Wise earned $37,492 – at the low end of the scale – compared with $54,765 for Jefferson College of Health Sciences graduates.

In some cases, the skills acquired with a two-year degree earned more than those with a four-year degree.

A graduate with an associate accounting degree made $30,964 for the first year and an electrician with two years of education commanded $36,734.

In contrast, graduates with a photography bachelor’s degree earned $23,035 in the first year while general English majors earned $23,423.

Virginia is only one of a handful of states that compiles earnings by degree and institution. CollegeMeasures.org has packaged the information and made it available in an easy-to-navigate website for students who are trying to decide on a career.

Later this summer, State Council of Higher Education for Virginia plans to make even more information available to the public: average student debts of graduates by program and institution.

With this information in hand, students can consider the debt-to-earnings ratio they may face when they are handed their degree.

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