Higher Education Pays: But Lot More for Some Graduates Than for Others

By Betsy Prueter

A new report from College Measures, an organization that publishes state-level college performance data (e.g., completion and employment rates), shows first-year earnings of recent college and master’s degree graduates in Arkansas, Colorado, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. The report suggests that a student’s chosen field of study has a greater impact on how much he or she can earn than the type of institution that student attends.

Among the report’s findings:

  • While on average nationwide graduates with four-year degrees usually earn more than those with associate’s degrees, students who earn a technical associate’s degree (e.g., information technology, health administration) often out earn those who hold bachelor’s degrees in the same fields.
  • Longer term certificates carry more market value than certificates that take less than one year to complete.
    • The earnings potential for longer term certificate holders is comparable to an associate’s degree.
  • Graduates of the state public flagship universities did not appear to earn more than students who attended state regional colleges.
  • At both the bachelor’s and master’s degree levels, the highest paying fields are all technical and career-oriented (e.g., engineering, health professions, financial, law) and the lowest paying fields are concentrated in the liberal arts and social sciences.
  • Graduates with bachelor’s degrees in engineering, math, and computer-and information-science programs out earn students who majored in biology and chemistry, suggesting that all STEM fields do not lead to higher earnings.