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Independent research organization evaluates impact of college degrees on employment opportunities, wages

Carbon County residents who recently completed bachelor's degrees may enter the workforce at lower salaries, but college graduates generally report higher lifetime earnings in the long run.

Occupational projections by the Utah Department of Workforce Services indicate that the state will add 365,680 jobs for an increase in total employment of nearly 31 percent from by 2010.

From 2002 to 2012, occupations that typically require higher education will grow at a faster rate than employment positions that only require on-the-job training. However, occupations requiring on-the-job training will continued to account for a larger number of new jobs.

By 2012, at a minimum of a bachelor's degree will be required for nearly 19.8 percent of workers compared to 19.2 percent in 2002.

Although the increase seems minor, it represents nearly 80,000 new jobs.

In contrast, the share of jobs requiring some post-secondary training or an associate's degree will climb by 0.3 percent.

Positions in the labor market requiring only on-the-job training will decrease by 0.9 percent statewide

The latest research report released by the Utah Foundation found that many college graduates are earning less than $30,000 in first year after entering the workforce.

However, the independent organization noted that the value of a four year college degree cannot be adequately assessed by examining only the starting salaries of graduates.

For example, the foundation researchers determined that people with at least a bachelor's degree can expect to experience better quality job opportunities.

Graduates generally earn better salaries and enjoy increased professional mobility.

While there are gains in earning an associate's or receiving some post-secondary education, the benefits are limited compared with the opportunities associated with completing a bachelor's degree, noted the Utah Foundation.

In Utah Job Trends, the department of workforce services ranks jobs based on employment outlook along with wages and lists "five star" jobs, explained the independent organization.

Among the five star jobs identified by the department of workforce services, 13 require a bachelor's degree. Only seven of the five star jobs require an associate's degree or post-secondary vocational training

An examination of jobless rates by educational attainment revealed that the greatest employment levels are enjoyed by people with bachelor degrees or higher, pointed out the foundation research report.

Based on data from the 2003 population survey, the statewide unemployment rate for Utahns 25 years of age or older with high school diplomas registered at 4.2 percent.

Interestingly, the jobless rate climbed to 4.4 percent for state residents with some college experience or an associate's degree, pointed out the independent organization.

In contrast, the unemployment rate dipped to 2.1 percent for Utahns with at least a bachelor's degree.

According to United States Census Bureau data, an average bachelor's degree holder will earn approximately $2.5 million during a 40-year period.

On average, associate degree holders will earn about $1.8 million and high school graduates $1.4 million.

Starting salaries for many graduates are frequently low because of a lack of work experience, noted the Utah Foundation. Most students attending four-year colleges opt to enroll full-time immediately after graduating from high school. Attending college full-time leaves students with little opportunity to gain relevant work experience. Therefore, starting salaries for graduates are lower than the average earnings people with more experience in the workforce. But the future earnings of college graduates can dramatically increase with employment experience.

Many higher paying jobs require at least three to five years of relevant work experience in addition to a college degree, according to the department of workforce services. Therefore, many lower earning first-year college graduates will be in the position to move to higher paying jobs in a few years.

U.S. Census Bureau estimates show significant increases in earnings for bachelor degree holders until the individuals reach their mid-50s, explained the foundation report . The largest increase in earnings, $9,238 on average, occurs between the 25- to 29-year-old and the 30- to 34-year-old cohort.

On average, bachelor's graduates from all Utah schools who completed an internship received significantly higher starting salaries than students without similar experience. For example, 69 percent of University of Utah graduates who completed internships received salaries of more than $30,000, whereas that percentage fell to 42 percent of students without similar experience.

In a 2005 educational survey, the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that "44.9 percent of employers said they offer higher salaries to new hires with co-op/internship experience than they offer to those without such experience."

NACE also reported that employers offered full-time employment to 52.3 percent of interns.

Overall, starting salaries are primarily determined by a graduate's chosen field of study. Students who major in fields that develop highly demanded technical skills will command higher starting salaries after graduation. Engineering, science and business graduates, as a group, receive the highest starting salaries. Graduates in the liberal arts, humanities and education receive the lowest starting salaries, concluded the Utah Foundation research report.

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