Social media degree: $130K. Your parent’s reaction: Priceless

According to the Newberry College website, one year of tuition, room and board comes in a cool $32,259.  And beginning next year, that $129,036 can buy you an interdisciplinary degree in social media.

One professor described the program like this: “It’s a blended major of graphic design, communications, business and marketing, psychology and statistics.”   Although not explicitly stated in the article, it’s implied that this description was given with a straight face.

I think that a social media degree perpetuates a dangerously high expectation for the future of social media.  Let me explain what I mean by that:

Why more colleges don’t offer a social media degree

A comments on Yahoo’s article about the social media degree program was quite interesting:

“Social media is a burgeoning field and many startups as well as established companies have or are trying to jump on the social media bandwagon. Look at Google Plus for example. Companies will hire these graduates, especially since it is a rare, and therefore more valuable degree.”

And an article from Mashable earlier this year appeared to substantiate the market for social media community managers, showing that community managers can make as much as $80K and strategists could make upwards of $115K.  So, is this a program that provides a specialized degree for a pool of high paying positions?  My guess is no.

I had a former boss who was very involved in lean manufacturing, and he told me that college curricula were always at least ten years behind current thinking and practice.  This is even more true for a technology like social media.  Think about the value of a course on Facebook in 2013 for a 2017 graduate of Newberry College.  Odds are it will be pretty worthless.  Think about the value of a calculus course in 2013 for an 2017 graduate in engineering.  Odds are that it would still be somewhat relevant.  This goes to the point of calling the social media degree a “specialized” degree: it’s not.  The technology is changing so quickly that academia can’t keep up with the changes.

But what about the high-paying opportunities in the world of social media?  I don’t dismiss everything in that Mashable infographic, but I question some of the data provided by (the source).  Anecdotally, most people understand that a percentage of social media community managers are interns.  I see far more job opportunities for interns in this space that for paid employees.  Another anecdotal observation: a percentage of social media jobs that I see state salary in the range of $28K-$35K which doesn’t correlate with the numbers presented by Indeed.

Georgetown University published a study of majors earlier this year and found that experienced workers with marketing degrees make about $65K in the 75th percentile, which presents a stark counterpoint to the social media manager making $80K.  How does a social media manager make more money than their more experienced boss, with less likelihood of presenting tangible ROI?  It’s pretty unlikely.  Note also that the Georgetown paper says this:

“Unemployment rates are generally higher in non-technical majors, such as the Arts (11.1 percent), Humanities and Liberal Arts (9.4 percent), (and) Social Science (8.9 percent).”

Interdisciplinary social media degrees sound suspiciously congruent with those categories.  Additionally, Vocus and Duct Tape Media showed in a recent study that 75% of small and medium sized businesses delegate social media to their marketing departments.  Those with aspirations for a social media career may be better off following a marketing generalist track.

Supply and demand

Social media networks are multiplying, and could possibly fragment to some degree.  But they’re not going to fragment to an unmanageable degree because people use them to connect.  Facebook’s user experience is in precipitous decline, but people still use it because everyone is there.  There will be dominant social networks in the future and those networks will want to make money.  Point being that specialization in a diaspora of future social networks probably won’t be necessary for marketing a business (or economically viable) and the assumption that a social media specialist can have a financial benefit to a company without other output is probably false.

I wrote yesterday about Myspace following the great social media cliche to create an appealing network and to try to monetize it later.  At some point Myspace (and probably even Google Plus) will start to run overt advertising.  Perhaps the greatest argument against a social media degree is that effective social media marketing will always incorporate advertising or traditional marketing and copywriting.  Facebook is a cautionary example of this.

I suspect that Newberry is offering this course anticipating demand from students rather than post-graduation demand from employers.  What do you think?  Is a degree in social media a good idea?  What are the future prospects for a student who graduates with this degree?  Are the salaries that Indeed published consistent with what you’re seeing for social media professionals?

Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty

Writer and chief of miscellany at
I'm the guy that wrote the article you just read. Sorry for the typos.
  • Yfran Garcia

    I tend to agree with you here Jim. The talked-about infographic that utilizes Indeed data avoids a crucial factor. As you stated in your article, that factor is that many social media managers (some of the best SM managers might I add) possess strong backgrounds in marketing – a factor which undoubtedly inflates projected salaries in the infographic.

    I also agree that a social media degree is silly. Maybe they should re-word that degree as it’s very misleading to students.

    • jimdougherty

      Thanks Yfran for reading, commenting and sharing this. We’ll see how this pans out, but a kid that can sell their parents on a $130K degree in social media may be a really good salesperson!

      • kim

        Who needs their parents, kids get financing for a loan regardless.

  • Neeraj Thakur

    The title of this post is Priceless Jim, so is it’s content!

    • Debbie Miller

      I agree! Great title. It’ll be interesting to see how parents feel about this.

      • jimdougherty

        Thanks Debbie. I’m hopeful my kids never consider anything like this, but fortunately I will be in my sixties and may care less!

    • jimdougherty

      Thanks Neeraj – appreciate you reading and your kind words!

  • Ian Cleary

    4 years of study related to any innovative trends such as social media is pointless! The big problem is full time lecturers are not qualified to teach it and as you say social media is constantly changing. But if you’re a college and want to earn some cash then offer some social media degree programmes!!!

  • Andrea Naomi

    I love the title as well it’s hilarious. I also have to agree with you regarding curriculum being way behind the times. A few years ago I decided I wanted to take up an IT degree to add more credibility to my marketing efforts. A few courses in I realized what they were teaching was ages behind what we were already doing online. As far as a social media degree is concerned if an institution can somehow devise a just-in-time methodology that ensures the instruction is relevant it “might” prove valuable. However, with the social media landscape changing so rapidly and the fact that the digital market is essentially even more decentralized in terms of salaries I think we all know that upwards of 80k for a large percentage of those new graduates is impractical. Excellent post Jim extremely thought provoking :)

  • Daniel Edmeades

    Hello Jim,

    Great post! Really interesting and I especially liked the comment around tangible ROI. This is something we discuss within our office on a daily basis!

    We have a way to Link Facebook to purchase and are attempting to demonstrate some ROI from Facebook for a few brands.

    Worth noting I’m finding it a tough tool to sell in!

    It could be my sales skills? It could also be that brands have a nervous feeling around linking
    Facebook to product purchase as the results vs spend might not stack up. If anyone has a view on that I would be keen to hear from them.

    I’ll keep an eye out for your future posts as this was time well spent.

  • Derek Slater

    An interesting thought exercise, though, is to try to design a curriculum that would make this a valuable degree (and still germane to social media). A heavy dose of analytical disciplines, behavioral economics, the copywriting elements, … and then one or two courses where the focus is specifically on today’s social platforms, identifying commonalities, etc?

  • Andreas Janke

    Very valuable thoughts, thank you. I’ll pass them to my pupils who are thinking about their future jobs. I, though, think, that SM is only a “surface technology”. At the basis of it is a quiet constant behaviour of human beings. While the suface may change quickly this basis does not. The only way to give sense to a SM degree is to focus on the basis and to explore tools to relate it to the mechanisms of the stormy surface technology. To deal with actual social media is quiet senseless. I, however, agree, that almost nobody can earn $80k+ with such a degree. If it was possible, hordes of psychologists, cultural managers, social workers, etc. would be near to this goal, too. For shure they are not.

    • jimdougherty

      Thanks Andreas for your thoughtful comment. I do believe that understanding the psychology and dynamics of social media will help us understand a lot of what’s happening now better. So I hope for that! Cheers!