NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Value of a College Degree

September 5, 2013

A degree from an elite public flagship university does not necessarily guarantee a higher-paying first job than one from a lesser-known school. Some two-year technical degrees produce higher starting salaries than four-year bachelor's degrees, says USA Today.

A survey this spring by the non-profit National Association of Colleges and Employers found that engineering majors commanded the highest average salaries, followed by computer science and business majors. Those degrees also fared well in a survey last year by the Collegiate Employment Research Institute based at Michigan State University. The "surprise" finding, that study says, was that the strongest demand was for associate's rather than bachelor's degrees.

Some short-term degrees command higher salaries than bachelor's degrees:

  • In Texas, new graduates from technical associate's degree programs earned average salaries more than $11,000 higher than those for graduates with bachelor's degrees.
  • In Colorado, graduates with associate's degrees in applied sciences out-earned their counterparts with bachelor's degrees by more than $7,000.
  • In Virginia by more than $2,000.

Higher tuition does not necessarily lead to higher salaries:

  • In Colorado, first-year earnings for graduates of Colorado State University's flagship campus in Fort Collins averaged $36,777, slightly lower than the average $37,726 earned by graduates of the university's Pueblo campus.
  • Tuition at the Fort Collins campus this fall for state residents is $7,494, compared with $4,894 at Pueblo.

The S (science) in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) may be oversold:

  • In Virginia, technology engineering and math degrees commanded starting salaries ranging from $38,673 to $52,200.
  • Degrees in biology averaged earnings of $27,893, lower than sociology ($30,044), psychology ($29,040) or English ($29,222).
  • Average earnings for chemistry majors were only slightly higher, $31,070.

Source: Mary Beth Marklein, "What's a College Major Worth? Study Linking First-Year Salaries with Majors Finds Some Surprises," USA Today, September 3, 2013.


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