Is Your College Investment Going to Pay Off?

It's not a surprise that making the most out of your college investment means choosing an optimal field of study. What may be surprising is that smoe seemingly successful majors don't actually pay that well.

The cost of higher education in the United States is flat-out ridiculous. While achieving a four-year degree statistically puts you at an advantage over those without one, going to college requires a major investment that has no certain guarantee of paying off. All a student can really do is optimize his or her chances by choosing the right school and field of study.


Sadly, if you're already in college,  you can't just spontaneously decide "well, my University of Palookaville degree won't be as valuable as one from Harvard so I'm just going to transfer today."

But don't dismay. What you can do is say "well, my Underwater Basket Weaving degree isn't going to help me later, so it's time to switch to Engineering or Computer Science." It may turn out to be a decision that pays dividends for the rest of your life.

Rick Newman of Yahoo Finance points out that the average cost of a bachelor's degree has breached $100,000, with private tuition potentially spelling a price as much as double that figure. In order to make the most of that hundred-grand, he suggests taking into account the findings of the Hamilton Project, a non-profit aimed at advancing opportunity, prosperity, and growth. Hamilton's recent report assesses the lifetime earnings of graduates by major. The chart below features some key major categories; a full listing is available in the report linked above.

Among Newman's takeaways are that finance jobs aren't nearly as strong investments as many of us assume. He also points out that some science gigs including biology, botany, and animal sciences actually pay below the median. Unsurprisingly, being able to stick it out in an engineering program likely means big earnings along the road.

In his article, Newman also draws from a separate study that assesses a major's meaningfulness to those who hold degrees:

"All 10 of the lowest-paying majors in the Payscale survey — which include child development, social work, pastoral ministry and special education — rank far above average in terms of how meaningful people feel their jobs are."

At the same time, there are dozens of majors that fall below the median for both pay and meaningfulness:

"The bottom 10: creative writing, animal science, landscape architecture, German language, graphic design, criminology, broadcast communication, culinary arts, anthropology and healthcare administration."

So what's the ultimate take-away? Is it that you only should pursue anthropology if you hold grand ambitions to be destitute and miserable? No, of course not. You just need to be aware that choosing certain majors will increase your chances of seeing a healthy return on investment. Newman explains that it's certainly possible to achieve a healthy living in graphic design or creative writing, but you're likely to have to depend more on your soft skills such as grit and charisma if you want to get by.

Read more at Yahoo News

Photo credit: ARENA Creative / Shutterstock

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New fossils suggest human ancestors evolved in Europe, not Africa

Experts argue the jaws of an ancient European ape reveal a key human ancestor.

Surprising Science
  • The jaw bones of an 8-million-year-old ape were discovered at Nikiti, Greece, in the '90s.
  • Researchers speculate it could be a previously unknown species and one of humanity's earliest evolutionary ancestors.
  • These fossils may change how we view the evolution of our species.

Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.

A set of 8-million-year-old teeth may have done just that. Researchers recently inspected the upper and lower jaw of an ancient European ape. Their conclusions suggest that humanity's forebearers may have arisen in Europe before migrating to Africa, potentially upending a scientific consensus that has stood since Darwin's day.

Rethinking humanity's origin story

The frontispiece of Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) sketched by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

As reported in New Scientist, the 8- to 9-million-year-old hominin jaw bones were found at Nikiti, northern Greece, in the '90s. Scientists originally pegged the chompers as belonging to a member of Ouranopithecus, an genus of extinct Eurasian ape.

David Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and his team recently reexamined the jaw bones. They argue that the original identification was incorrect. Based on the fossil's hominin-like canines and premolar roots, they identify that the ape belongs to a previously unknown proto-hominin.

The researchers hypothesize that these proto-hominins were the evolutionary ancestors of another European great ape Graecopithecus, which the same team tentatively identified as an early hominin in 2017. Graecopithecus lived in south-east Europe 7.2 million years ago. If the premise is correct, these hominins would have migrated to Africa 7 million years ago, after undergoing much of their evolutionary development in Europe.

Begun points out that south-east Europe was once occupied by the ancestors of animals like the giraffe and rhino, too. "It's widely agreed that this was the found fauna of most of what we see in Africa today," he told New Scientists. "If the antelopes and giraffes could get into Africa 7 million years ago, why not the apes?"

He recently outlined this idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

It's worth noting that Begun has made similar hypotheses before. Writing for the Journal of Human Evolution in 2002, Begun and Elmar Heizmann of the Natural history Museum of Stuttgart discussed a great ape fossil found in Germany that they argued could be the ancestor (broadly speaking) of all living great apes and humans.

"Found in Germany 20 years ago, this specimen is about 16.5 million years old, some 1.5 million years older than similar species from East Africa," Begun said in a statement then. "It suggests that the great ape and human lineage first appeared in Eurasia and not Africa."

Migrating out of Africa

In the Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that hominins descended out of Africa. Considering the relatively few fossils available at the time, it is a testament to Darwin's astuteness that his hypothesis remains the leading theory.

Since Darwin's time, we have unearthed many more fossils and discovered new evidence in genetics. As such, our African-origin story has undergone many updates and revisions since 1871. Today, it has splintered into two theories: the "out of Africa" theory and the "multi-regional" theory.

The out of Africa theory suggests that the cradle of all humanity was Africa. Homo sapiens evolved exclusively and recently on that continent. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors migrated from Africa to Eurasia and replaced other subspecies of the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals. This is the dominant theory among scientists, and current evidence seems to support it best — though, say that in some circles and be prepared for a late-night debate that goes well past last call.

The multi-regional theory suggests that humans evolved in parallel across various regions. According to this model, the hominins Homo erectus left Africa to settle across Eurasia and (maybe) Australia. These disparate populations eventually evolved into modern humans thanks to a helping dollop of gene flow.

Of course, there are the broad strokes of very nuanced models, and we're leaving a lot of discussion out. There is, for example, a debate as to whether African Homo erectus fossils should be considered alongside Asian ones or should be labeled as a different subspecies, Homo ergaster.

Proponents of the out-of-Africa model aren't sure whether non-African humans descended from a single migration out of Africa or at least two major waves of migration followed by a lot of interbreeding.

Did we head east or south of Eden?

Not all anthropologists agree with Begun and his team's conclusions. As noted by New Scientist, it is possible that the Nikiti ape is not related to hominins at all. It may have evolved similar features independently, developing teeth to eat similar foods or chew in a similar manner as early hominins.

Ultimately, Nikiti ape alone doesn't offer enough evidence to upend the out of Africa model, which is supported by a more robust fossil record and DNA evidence. But additional evidence may be uncovered to lend further credence to Begun's hypothesis or lead us to yet unconsidered ideas about humanity's evolution.