NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Higher education leads to better paying jobs and by 2018 almost two thirds of all occupations in the United States will require a college degree, according to a new study.
Researchers at Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce found that lifetime earnings for college graduates are higher than for non-graduates, and workers with degrees in science, technology or engineering earn the most.
"The most lucrative major is petroleum engineer, but any major that has a strong mathematical basis has very high earnings out of college and long-term earnings that are really stellar," said Anthony Carnevale, a co-author of the study.
The lowest paying degrees are those in education, counseling and the arts and liberal arts come somewhere in the middle.
"You can do pretty well with a liberal arts degree, and many end up going to graduate school," he said.
In 1973, only 28 percent of jobs required a college degree but by 2018 the number is expected to rise to 63 percent, according to the study.
Carnevale and his colleagues, Stephen J. Rose and Ban Cheah, who examined life-time earnings by education level and by occupation, age, race/ethnicity and gender, said the unemployment rate for people without college degrees is about twice that of people with degrees.
"The difference in earning between those who go to college and those who don't is growing -- meaning that postsecondary education is more important than ever," they said in the study.
They also uncovered a persistent gap between the wages of college-educated men and women and between different ethnic and racial groups.
"On average, to earn as much as men with a bachelor's degree, women must obtain a doctoral degree," according to the study.
"Similar gaps also exist by race and ethnicity. African Americans and Latinos earn less than their white counterparts, even among the most highly-educated workers."
Jamie P. Merisotis, president of the independent Lumina Foundation which sponsored the research, said that the United States now ranked below other countries in a global list of 25-34 year-olds with college degrees.
"It's not that the U.S. is doing any worse but other countries are doing a lot better ... because we are seeing other countries invested in that talent and skill development," he said in an interview.
He added that enrolling more Americans in college was a key factor in keeping America competitive.
Merisotis suggested that rather than build new universities, American schools should find new ways to get the most out of colleges that already exist.