Which MN college majors offer best job demand, pay?

The state is rolling out a public database that shows what kinds of degrees lead to the best jobs and pay in Minnesota.

Economist Steve Hine, who runs the state’s labor market information office, says new, more accurate data enables the Graduate Employment Outcomes tool to give users the most detailed jobs picture to date.

It comes at a time when Minnesota and the rest of the nation are questioning mounting student debt and the marketability of some college degrees. Many recent graduates can’t find jobs — or aren’t employed in the areas they trained for.

“The way to mitigate that risk,” Hine said, “is to base your decisions on better information.”

Users can look up degree areas and sort through job and income data by geographic region, their level of degree, type of institution and the area they want to study. Data will be updated each year.

They’ll see how various fields look when it comes to employability, earnings, quality and stability — such as whether most grads find full-time work, or must settle for part-time employment, for example.

State officials gave a written example of what someone might find:

Of the 1,696 students who graduated from an engineering program in Minnesota in the 2010-2011 school year, 64 percent of them were employed in Minnesota (including part-timers) in the second year after graduation, earning an annual median wage of $60,459.

Hine said, “This information is very applicable to individuals that are trying to select a major or a course of study that is most likely to get them what they want: a good job at the end of the training.”

Analyst Alessia Leibert was blunter: “This tool provides a reality check” for students, helping them set “realistic expectations.”

What makes it better than previous labor-market data, Hine said, is that it is able to track students through the job market using Social Security numbers. Past data has relied on surveys, he said, which have been less reliable.

The tools will aid not just students, state officials say, but will probably find a larger audience among career counselors. Colleges can use the information to shape their curricula — as Minnesota’s state college-and-university system is trying to do — and lawmakers can use it to see which fields have too many workers or too few.

Hine said the tool will become more comprehensive as data is added over time, and he said he hoped to add new types of data soon.

Leibert said other states such as California, Virginia,  Arkansas, Texas and Colorado have similar tools.