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Good News for Degree Holders: Pay Rates Are Up

It may be stating the obvious that your earning power over your lifetime is directly tied to your level of education. But competition is tougher than ever for high-paying jobs, and candidates just entering the work force are better educated than their predecessors. Everyone wants to know whether their freshly printed degree is worth their trouble.

Years ago, a bachelor’s degree in your chosen field was the benchmark for success. Today, experienced workers are returning to college to amp up their earning power. Ultimately, in 2006, it’s more about your preferred career field — combined with a degree — that determines the best-paid Americans.

Earning power aside, many students (or those just now entering college) are concerned that their bachelor’s degree won’t be worth much, and perhaps that it will be only the minimal entry ticket to a graduate program while they stumble about looking for meaningful work.

If anyone has told you that your bachelor’s degree holds little value in a competitive job marketplace, they told you wrong. While you can certainly increase your earning power with greater educational attainment, the equation does not automatically disregard the high value of completing an undergraduate degree.

Hiring and Wages Are Up for New Graduates
A new survey of employers conducted by The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) reports that hiring will climb almost 13 percent for grads of the 2006 class than their counterparts last year. NACE claims more than 60 percent of surveyed employers are looking to recruit new grads to fill more positions than last year and another 22 percent will at least hire grads at last year’s rates.

The largest recruiting sector will be in the service industry, where employers will add some 21 percent more graduate-employees over last year’s levels. The federal government is also projected to increase entry-level hires of new graduates by a whopping 22 percent. Manufacturing sector will grow their recruiting efforts to lure new grads — more than 8 percent over last year’s hiring.

Even more encouraging is NACE data that predicts that employers’ determination to hire new grads will continue into well into next year. If you’re in line for a diploma and a handshake next spring, keep heart.

There’s even better news. As a response to the increased demand for fresh gads, more employers will offer increased wages to lure job candidates. In a second report, NACE says that newly minted bachelor’s degree holders are attracting higher offers than last-year’s counterparts.

Business is Good, Engineering is Better
The top-earning new career field for 2006 appears to match last year’s boon for business majors. Entry-level wages for new bachelor’s-degree-in-business grads climbed more than 5 percent to an estimated $46,000. Economics and finance majors also witnessed a greater than 5 percent increase in entry wages to more than $45,000. Business administration majors had nearly a 4 percent increase to nearly $41,000, according to the NACE report.

It’s no surprise that engineering grads are in high demand. One of the best leaps in beginning wages for new college grads will go to computer engineering majors, who stand to earn more than $54,000 — greater than a 5 percent increase — just for coming in the door. NACE figures also show nearly a 5 percent entry-level wage increase for chemical engineering majors joining the profession at more than $56,000 per year. Electrical engineers with a new bachelor’s degree will also enjoy a nearly 4 percent entry wage just above $54,000.

NACE data on top-wage levels for bachelor’s degree grads entering their field show a marked preference for field engineers — predicted to earn some $51,162. Project engineers are not far behind at $49,888. New construction and design engineers come next, at $48,025. Financial analysts are expected to command a solid $46,448 beginning wage.

Earning Power Still Rises By Degrees
Following that good news, it still pays to examine the earning power of degree holders by their level of education experience. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that workers above 18 years old with a bachelor’s degree earn nearly twice as much as their counterparts who only have high school diplomas.

Based on U.S. Census Bureau findings in 2002, the average annual earnings for high-school graduates was $30,400. Completing your associate’s degree in your professional field will increase annual earnings to $38,200. Transfer to a four-year school and graduate with a bachelor’s degree in the same field and your earning power rises to an average of $52, 500.

If you move directly from there to completing graduate work or return to school after working a few years and complete a master’s degree, your salary in the same profession will increase upwards of $62,300 per year. Stay on the path and complete a professional degree or PhD in your field, and your annual earning power increases to between $89,400 and $109,600 annually. Of course, these figures are for national averages across all career fields. In specialized professions you may earn well above these averages.

To show specific increases, Jobweb reports this salary range for three selected professions based on entry degree levels:

How does it all measure up after a life-time of employment? The U.S. Census Bureau determined that lifetime earnings for people who hold only a high school diploma can rise as high as $1 million. But complete an associate’s degree and your lifetime earnings nearly double to $1.8 million.

It gets better as you continue your training. Lifetime earnings for average bachelor’s degree holders top out around $2.1 million. Add a master’s, professional, or doctorate degree and your lifetime earnings range between $2.5 million and $4.4 million.

When you consider the promising news for undergrads entering the workplace as well as the potential to increase lifetime earnings through continued educational progress, why wouldn’t you crack open your textbooks?

Publish date: July 2, 2008