Picking a degree: Students are advised to check the job market
December 24, 2005
The Salt Lake Tribune
By Shinika A. Sykes
Most people consider a college education a ticket to a good job. And while a degree certainly opens doors to higher incomes, many Utah graduates are making less than $30,000 a year, a new study shows.
School-by-school comparisons of 2004 graduate earnings reveal that, depending on the school, 40 percent to 69 percent of those graduating with bachelor's degrees are earning annual salaries of less than $30,000, according to a report by the nonprofit Utah Foundation.
Sixty-nine percent of Southern Utah University's graduates earn less than $30,000. Brigham Young University is next, at 55 percent. The University of Utah and Utah State University are tied, at 51 percent.
Slightly better are Weber State University at 47 percent; Utah Valley State College (41 percent); and Westminster College (40 percent).
The survey - conducted over the summer - is based on responses from 1,943 Utah college graduates.
The low salaries for Utah-based graduates likely can be attributed directly to lower salaries for all workers in the state. The average annual salary for Utah in 2004 was $32,171, which is significantly below the national average of $39,354.
Mark Knold, senior economist for the Utah Department of Workforce Service, isn't surprised by the foundation's findings.
"Some degrees are a dime a dozen," he said. Most people don't put a lot of thought into the degree they get. Later, they find there's not a big demand for something in which they have invested a lot of time and money."
People need to think in terms of college costs and benefits, Knold said. "Is there a demand for the degree on the other side?"
Yet Knold concurs with the report's discovery of a wide salary disparity between graduates who find employment in Utah and those who choose to work elsewhere. The economist points to the costs of living in other places.
"When you compare the cost of living in California or the East Coast, Utah doesn't look so bad," he said. "That $30 an hour in San Diego doesn't buy as many goods and services as $20 in Salt Lake City."
Even so, Utah's starting salaries do not compare well, the report said. In fact, Utah ranked 36th nationally in average annual pay.
Richard Pak, the foundation research analyst who led the survey, said its intent is to show the differences between Utah colleges and universities in matters of graduates' employment, education opportunities and experiences.
For example, among the schools surveyed, Westminster rated the highest in Utah for providing graduates with job opportunities. It's probably no coincidence that Westminster had the lowest percentage of graduate receiving salaries below $30,000.
The survey also found that UVSC exceeds each of the other schools in the percentage of bachelor's degree graduates earning $40,000 or more, Pak noted.
"UVSC graduates are much more likely to have studied business, computer science or other high-paying career-oriented subjects - giving them a statistical edge in salary rankings," he said. "That's surprising, given that only 12 years ago, UVSC was a community college."
When UVSC considers offering degrees, administrators look at the marketplace and try to make the best fit, spokesman Derek Hall said. In addition, the Orem-based college is surrounded by a number of high-tech companies that hire UVSC students because they are "well qualified and they tend to stay" in Utah, Hall added.
Among other findings, students who graduated with advanced degrees earn significantly better pay. Among all advanced-degree graduates surveyed, the median salary was in the $50,000 to $60,000 range. Only 1.4 percent of Utah's graduate-degree holders earn salaries lower than $30,000 a year, the report said.
Other findings of the report
- Graduates from all Utah colleges find Utah's job opportunities below par.
- Utah Valley State College's 2004 graduates earn the highest salaries.
- Graduates who complete college internships receive better salaries.
- About 13 percent of Southern Utah University's women graduates become homemakers; BYU is close behind, at 10 percent.
- Graduates from UVSC, Weber State University and Westminster College are most likely to stay in Utah.