Computer engineering degrees pay off big time

Computer engineering majors are some of the highest paid workers, according to new data analyzed by the Brookings Institution.

Computer engineering majors are some of the highest paid workers in the country, according to new data analyzed by the Brookings Institution.

Students who graduate with engineering degrees across a variety of fields are rewarded with high-paying jobs and have strong earning potential throughout their career, according to the recently released report. The top engineering degrees are chemical, aerospace and energy while computer engineering lands as the fourth-highest earning degree.

+ MORE AT NETWORK WORLD: The top 20 colleges for computer science majors, based on earnings potential +

There's a slight difference between computer engineering and computer science, according to Duke University's Pratt School of Engineering. Computer engineering studies the practical elements of designing and building computing systems whereas computer science deals more with the "theoretical underpinnings" of computing.

What's interesting about this data, compiled by The Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution, is the level of detail related to how much money graduates make just out of college, throughout different points of their career and over their lifetime.

Chemical engineering majors reported the highest total earnings throughout their entire career, topping out at more than $2.1 million on average. Computer engineering majors ranked fourth, earning an average of $2.02 million throughout their career. Computer science majors ranked 10th among all majors analyzed, ending their careers earning $1.67 million total on average, the study found.

"Engineering has reliably been a high-paying major dating back as far as the 1960s and 70s," says co-author Brad Hershbein, a visiting fellow at Brookings Institution's Hamilton Project, a Washington D.C. public policy research group and think-tank. The full report can be found here.

In addition to looking at total earnings of various college majors, Hershbein examined the distribution of salaries across the spectrum of workers in that field. So for example, while the average computer engineer earns $2.02 million throughout his career, the top 10% of computer engineering majors earn more than $3.55 million.

Other college majors, take Finance, for example, have lower average lifetime earnings, in this case $1.56 million. But, the high-end of finance majors have earned more than $4 million throughout their careers.

In addition to looking at the lifetime earnings across the spectrum of professionals in that field, Hershbein looked at the average salary of earners throughout various stages of their career. Computer engineers have an average starting salary of $49,200, Hershbein found. In the later years of their career computer engineering graduates can earn $102,700 annually. For computer science, the figures are slightly smaller, as seen in the chart above.

The data showing that computer engineering and computer science is a lucrative major comes as colleges and universities around the country are reporting increased interest in computing majors. Enrollment for computer science programs increased 22%, according to the 123 departments across the country, the Computing Research Association recently reported.

Hershbein used data from the U.S. Census Bureau collected from between 2009 and 2012; 2013 data will be released soon.

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