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College grads: Here's what your B.A. is worth

By Ben Rooney, staff reporter

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- In a rare bit of good news for college students facing a tough labor market, the sharp decline in starting salaries for recent graduates appears to be stabilizing, according to a study released Thursday.

The average starting salary offered to 2010 graduates with a bachelor's degree is $48,288, according to a survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. That's down 0.7% from $48,633 last year.

The relatively modest decline comes after starting salaries began falling steadily when the recession hit in 2008. The survey, which is conducted four times a year, showed in July that starting salaries had dropped 1.3% after a decline of 1.7% in April.

"The good news is that the decreases in starting salaries appear to have leveled off," Marilyn Mackes, NACE executive director, said in a statement. "In terms of starting salaries, this is the most encouraging news we've had since the market started tumbling in Fall 2008."

Of course, certain college majors remain more lucrative than others. The top-paid college majors were in technical fields such as engineering and computer science, while liberal arts degrees had the least earning potential.

A graduate with a bachelor's degree in petroleum engineering, for example, can expect to earn a starting salary of $77,278, on average. That's the highest of all majors in the survey and was followed by chemical engineering, mining and minerals engineering, computer science and computer engineering.

While engineering majors had the highest offers in the survey, the average starting salary for this group declined 1.7% to $58,669 this year versus the year before.

Meanwhile, liberal arts majors can expect to be offered a starting salary in the range of $35,508, down 3% versus last year. Psychology majors were the hardest hit, with initial salaries plunging 6.7% to an average of $32,260, while offers to English majors dropped 1.8% to $35,946.

There were some bright spots, however, for liberal arts majors. Salary offers to sociology majors rose 3.1% to $35,357 and history majors saw a more modest 0.7% increase to $38,731, according to the survey.

Overall starting salaries for business majors, once among the most lucrative degrees, were essentially unchanged from last year at $46,672.

Accounting, business administration and marketing majors all had declines in starting salaries. But economics majors bucked the trend, with average starting pay rising 4.2% to $51,698 this year. To top of page

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