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Is a Geography Degree worth it?

Recently, we were asked by our new University President, Chuck Wight, how our students are doing in obtaining their first job.  You have to understand, Chuck is fanatical about the student experience, and frequently gives talks on making college more affordable, and demonstrating that a college degree has value.  This was an excellent question.  What he was really doing was asking what is on the minds of so many parents:

is this degree that my child is getting worth the money we are going to pay

I’m embarrassed to say that most of us who heard this question only really had anecdotal evidence.  However, some of us came away from our meeting inspired by Chuck, instead of dejected.  Rather than wait to do something, we reached out to around 60 of our recent graduates (May 2018, December 2017) with a Google poll to see how they were doing immediately after graduation.

We asked basic things to start off: gender, major within the Department of Geography and Geosciences,  their individual track (i.e. atmospheric science, GIS, Planning), and then moved on to more interesting questions like whether they had an internship.  Finally, we asked two important questions about employment and paying for college.   The following is a brief review of the results.


Believe it or not, this was an important question.  We are only getting a sample, and the big question is whether our sample is any good, or if it is terribly biased.  One of the only things we know for sure is the gender of our students.  So, if the response to this question accurately reflected the gender make up of our graduates, then we could be fairly confident that the other questions were an accurate reflection of our Department.  This would allow us to make inferences about our recent graduating class.


Fortunately for us, the gender question was very similar to our actual graduating class makeup.  Therefore, we have greater confidence in the results of our other questions.  Given the large push to get more women in STEM activities, this also motivates us to increase the participation of women in our Department.

The Degree in General

From our survey, we see that most of our majors focused on Geography, and GIS and Atmospheric Science were the leading tracks that students concentrated on.

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These results give us really nice targets to consider, like how to increase enrollments in our other tracks.  In fact, because students can have multiple tracks, we can encourage them to consider pairing say their GIS track with Planning or Human Geography.


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We found that most of our students had internships, and most of those internships were paid.  This really speaks to the value proposition.  In our Department, we really value students obtaining real world experience in their major.  This is what makes them marketable.  The fact that 75% of our students had an internship tells me we are doing our job to plug these students into their field of study – it also tells me that this is something hard to improve upon.   This, we believe really makes a difference when it comes to landing that first job.  I’m also extremely proud of the fact that 70% of our students are being paid for their internships.


This is the big one.  And here are the results:

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I am so proud of our students, Department, and University.  These numbers are astounding.  In a day and age when people are wondering if a college degree is worth it, I believe this pie chart speaks for itself.  Remember, these are recent graduates.  You know, the kind of people who don’t have the experience to get a job…  In the case of our majors,  over 94% of our students are engaged in something post-graduation (job, graduate school, or service organization).  Breaking things down:

  1. almost 60% of our students are already employed within 2 months of graduating

  2. 30% of our students are in graduate school – and notice, every one of them are funded!  If this doesn’t say something about the value of a Salisbury University degree in Geography and Geosciences, I don’t know what does.

  3. 5% of our students have engaged with a service organization like the Peace Corps., Americorps, or something similar.

  4. 10% of our students are still looking for employment.

Over the next few days, I will be slicing these responses up a little more to see what percentage of students who had an internship have a job, or what percentage of students in the GIS track have a job.  But for now, I am very pleased to see that upon graduation, our students are doing quite well in their next step.

Paying for college

This question gives us a lot to think about.  Another question students are asking is how am I going to pay for college.  I have a series of blog posts on that here.  I am very happy to see that over 50% of our students have scholarships, but I want that number to be higher.  Again, without this kind of survey, we would have no idea what our student are doing with regard to paying for college.  Now, we have some actionable items, and the one at the top of my list is to see us increase scholarship opportunities.  Also, with 73% of our students taking on loans, I would like to see that number reduced.

Final Thoughts

I was so pleased to write this blog post.  I can now answer my President when he asks how students are doing in obtaining their first job:

quite well, Mr. President, and now we have some other things to think about to make it even better.

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