University graduates earn at least 70 percent more than high school grads

A new report shows that wages add up significantly for students who earn degrees from Arizona’s universities.

National studies point to higher wages earned for university graduates, but until now, it’s been difficult to quantify how Arizona graduates, in particular, fare.

The 2009 report on Wages Earned by Arizona University System Graduates, which was shared at the August meeting of the Arizona Board of Regents, reveals that the median earnings of bachelor’s degree recipients working in Arizona are 70 percent higher than high school graduates.

Bachelor’s degree recipients had median earnings of $45,653, while high school graduates had median earnings of $26,906. Graduate degree recipients had median earnings of $56,110.

The report provides data on graduates working in Arizona in 2007 who graduated between 1990 and 2007. The report excludes graduates who are self-employed or work outside the state.

“In my view, education is both a public good and a private good,” said Dan Anderson, assistant executive director for Institutional Analysis for ABOR, who presented the report.

Anderson noted that the university graduates tracked during the 17-year period generated $678 million in tax revenue to the state.

The private benefits of education certainly include potential earnings. “It’s important to parents and it’s important to their son or daughter,” he said.

Engineering and business/management/marketing rank at the top for the highest median wages among the largest instructional areas at the universities. The other top instructional areas for both undergraduate and graduate programs are education, communication and journalism, social sciences, psychology, public administration and social service and health professions and related fields.

Anderson noted fairly strong similarity in wages among graduates in those instructional areas from each university, with some areas of lower wages possibly attributed to jobs in more rural areas of the state.

Anderson said the universities also want to know the value of their efforts in educating graduates. “We do all this work and set them loose in the world. What happens to these people when they leave the institution? Now we can quantify that.”

The report notes that of those students earning a bachelor’s degree in 2007, 77.1 percent had a job in Arizona’s economy in 2007; 72.8 percent for students earning a graduate degree. While the report indicates strong numbers for graduates entering the job market in Arizona, the retention of university graduates in the work force does decline to between 41 percent and 43 percent after 16 years. Reasons for the drop include obtaining employment outside Arizona, leaving the workplace for family/personal reasons or the loss of a job.