MADISON – Earning a college degree brings a person immediate and long-term financial and social benefits and has a positive effect on the graduate’s health as well, according to two studies from the University of Wisconsin System.

The first study, produced by the UW System’s Office of Policy Analysis and Research, shows that average earnings of 1979 UW System alumni 20 years after graduation was $53,000, slightly more than a 100-percent increase over starting salaries of recent graduates.

The greatest growth was in the average salaries of business and engineering graduates, with less growth in the average wages of nursing and education graduates, according to Frank Goldberg, associate vice president for policy analysis and research.

“Clearly there is the potential for tremendous growth in earnings when someone completes a college degree,” said Goldberg, who presented his findings to the UW System Board of Regents on Thursday (April 10). “This growth in earnings benefits Wisconsin as well through increased tax revenue paid by college graduates.”

Goldberg said that 1979 business graduates earned an average salary of $69,500 in 1999, a 114-percent increase over the starting wages of recent graduates. Engineering graduates from 1979 earned $80,800 on average in 1999, 96 percent higher than recent graduates.

Average 1999 salaries for nursing graduates from 1979 were $47,400, a 30-percent increase over wages for recent nursing grads. Educators’ average earnings 20 years after graduation were $41,100, 59 percent higher than recent grads.

The findings show that UW System graduates, on average, earn less than the national starting salary in their respective fields, which is a cause for concern, Goldberg said.

Nurses earn 97 percent of the national starting salary, although there is less of an increase in their earnings over time compared to other fields. Accountants earn 86 percent of the national starting salary, while English, history and fine arts graduates earn far below the starting salaries of their national counterparts, the study found.

Goldberg added that his study also corroborates a 2000 analysis of where UW alumni were living and working. The most recent findings show that 82 percent of UW System graduates from Wisconsin either work or live in the state immediately after graduation. In addition, 27 percent of Minnesota reciprocity students and 24 percent of non-resident students remain in Wisconsin after finishing a UW degree.

More than 90 percent of education, nursing and liberal studies majors remain and are employed in Wisconsin following graduation, the study shows. Seventy percent of engineers remain in Wisconsin, a considerably high proportion given the demand and competition in the broader national market, Goldberg said.

“These are very positive figures, which show once again that the UW System is contributing to a ‘brain gain’ for the state,” Goldberg said.

The percentage of UW System alumni remaining in Wisconsin decreases after 15 and 20 years, which is also true of many other states as people progress in their careers, Goldberg said.

The trend highlights Wisconsin’s challenge of retaining highly skilled workers over time, given the composition of Wisconsin’s economy, the decline in the number of corporate headquarters in the state and the opportunities and choices facing a highly educated and experienced workforce, Goldberg added.

The Board of Regents on Thursday also heard from Robert M. Hauser, professor of sociology from UW-Madison, who reported on the long-run effects of postsecondary education as discovered through the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study.

The Wisconsin Longitudinal Study has been examining the education, careers, family and health of Wisconsin high school graduates from the Class of 1957. The original survey sample included 10,317 participants, and 8,500 graduates were last surveyed in 1992-93.

The study involves more than 50 researchers in a variety of academic disciplines and receives major funding from the National Institute on Aging. Hauser has directed the study since 1980. He is the Vilas Research and Samuel A. Stouffer Professor of Sociology at UW-Madison and director of the Center for Demography of Health and Aging.

Among the findings presented to the Board of Regents, Hauser outlined various financial, social and health-related outcomes. For example, he said the 1992 median income for college graduates in the study, when adjusted to 2001 dollars, was $63,060, compared to about half that value, $31,654, for high school graduates.

By comparison, the median income of college graduates from the study in 1974 was $47,101, and for high school graduates the median income in 1974 was $31,087. Hauser noted there was tremendous growth in income for college graduates from 1974 to 1992 but hardly any for high school graduates.

Hauser also reported that college graduates in his study, as compared to high school graduates, had obtained more net financial assets; more often reported their health as excellent; were less likely to smoke cigarettes; and were more likely to volunteer and make financial contributions of more than $500 to charities.

“The benefits of college graduation remain strong,” Hauser said, “even considering the academic, social and economic advantages of those who went to college.”

Hauser told the board that future plans for the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study will include new surveys of graduates, siblings, spouses and widows and will focus on family, health and retirement.

Media Contact

Erik Christianson UW System 608-262-5061