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Disaggregate: Postsecondary major


A student’s postsecondary major(s)

Why it matters

Some fields of study are more lucrative than others; therefore, a student’s postsecondary major is likely to be linked to longer-term economic outcomes. Degree holders in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) fields, for example, tend to earn higher wages. Degree holders in business and health fields also tend to earn above-average wages, whereas degree holders in arts, social work, and education tend to earn the lowest wages over time, based on an analysis by Georgetown University that analyzed earnings by major groupings. The same analysis also noted that, despite being associated with lower earnings, more than 20 percent of students choose to major in education, arts, psychology, or social work. The Postsecondary Value Commission calls these fields “high social value” fields and points out that these professions are systematically undervalued.

What to know about measurement

Postsecondary institutions that receive federal financial aid are required to report students’ field of study across 33 areas; specifically, fields of study are tracked using Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) codes, which are divided into 60 main areas. Information on field of study is also reported in the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). CIP codes can be further grouped into STEM fields using a list published by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. CIP codes can also be linked to occupational categories via Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) codes, allowing E-W systems to link postsecondary data to labor market data.

Source frameworks

This disaggregate appeared in two source frameworks reviewed for this report: the California Cradle-to-Career Data System and the Institute for Higher Education Policy Postsecondary Metrics framework.


The framework's recommendations are based on syntheses of existing research. Please see the framework report for a list of works cited.

This website was funded in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.