(Stacker) – College is an expensive endeavor. The average cost of attending a public school, living on campus and paying in-state tuition adds up to $102,828 on average nationwide, according to Education Data Initiative. Attending a private school or paying out-of-state tuition can double that cost.

With such a high cost of earning a degree, students need ways to evaluate whether attending a university is worth the investment.

One such measure is the median earnings of college graduates by field of study.

On a national level, those who study nuclear engineering technologies or become technicians in that field have the highest median earnings three years after graduation at $107,804, followed by the fields of biomathematics, bioinformatics, and computational biology ($98,074), operations research ($96,452), marine transportation ($94,032), and petroleum engineering ($93,515).

Yet, while it remains true that college graduates have higher lifetime earnings than noncollege graduates, some of the lowest-earning majors still earn less than a living wage. Earnings also vary considerably by state, due to differences in local economies and industry location.

EDsmart used data for the 2020-21 school year from the Department of Education to rank degree majors in Texas by median earnings three years after graduation for those with bachelor’s degrees. Some degree programs listed are only offered at one college in the state. When a major is offered at multiple colleges, the analysis lists the median earnings between them.

Which degrees don’t typically result in top earners?

Least lucrative college majors in Texas:

#1. Theological and Ministerial Studies ($21,903)
#2. Business, Management, Marketing, and Related Support Services, Other ($25,156)
#3. Graphic Communications ($26,932)
#4. Film/Video and Photographic Arts ($28,146)
#5. Audiovisual Communications Technologies/Technicians ($28,323)

On the other hand, the most lucrative college majors in Texas:

#1. Petroleum Engineering ($103,896)
#2. Marine Transportation ($94,608)
#3. Operations Research ($89,319)
#4. Chemical Engineering ($84,688)
#5. Computer Engineering ($82,826)

Hundreds of thousands of young people who came of age during the pandemic have actually opted to forgo college altogether. Many have turned to hourly jobs or careers that don’t require a degree, while others have been deterred by high tuition and the prospect of student debt.

What first looked like a pandemic blip has turned into a crisis. Nationwide, undergraduate college enrollment dropped 8% from 2019 to 2022, with declines even after returning to in-person classes, according to data from the National Student Clearinghouse. The slide in the college-going rate since 2018 is the steepest on record, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Economists say the impact could be dire.

At worst, it could signal a new generation with little faith in the value of a college degree. At minimum, it appears those who passed on college during the pandemic are opting out for good. Predictions that they would enroll after a year or two haven’t borne out.

Fewer college graduates could worsen labor shortages in fields from health care to information technology. For those who forgo college, it usually means lower lifetime earnings — 75% less compared with those who get bachelor’s degrees, according to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. And when the economy sours, those without degrees are more likely to lose jobs.

“It’s quite a dangerous proposition for the strength of our national economy,” said Zack Mabel, a Georgetown researcher.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.