Tennessee Public Postsecondary Graduates and the Labor Market: Employment Prospects and Wage Trends

September 30, 2014 07:43

Tennessee has a reputation for being a leader in reform efforts to improve education at both the K–12 and postsecondary levels. Through the “Drive to 55” education initiative, Governor Bill Haslam has put the improvement of Tennessee’s higher education at the center of his tenure. The initiative challenges the state to increase the percentage of adults with postsecondary credentials from 36% to 55% by 2025. In pursuit of this effort, Tennessee has introduced several collegegoing and postsecondary completion initiatives, including changing the delivery of developmental coursework, offering free community college tuition for recent high school graduates, recruiting adults without degrees to reenter institutions of higher education, and better aligning postsecondary offerings with workforce opportunities across the state.  

College Measures’ new EduTrendsTN website (, developed in partnership with the State of Tennessee, supports these initiatives by providing prospective students and their families with information about higher education costs, benefits, and affordability and delivering insights into employment demand and wage potential across many fields. This website delivers important information to Tennesseans so they can make better informed decisions about their choices of colleges, credentials, and fields of study. The EduTrendsTN project should also increase consumers’ awareness of careers in high demand and where students who complete various kinds of postsecondary credentials will be more likely to find jobs.  

This report highlights just some of the information that can be found on the EduTrendsTN website ( The following are some of the noteworthy findings from our study on the labor market success of postsecondary education completers.

Subbaccalaureate Credentials

• Nearly 90,000 bachelor’s degrees were granted during the five academic years (from Academic Year 2006–07 to Academic Year 2010–11) covered for this report. While bachelor’s degrees are the most commonly awarded postsecondary credentials in the state’s public system of higher education, more than 84,000 subbaccalaureate credentials—including associate’s degrees, diplomas, and certificates—were awarded from 2006–07 to 2010–11. Subbaccalaureate credentials are often designed to prepare students for careers in a specific field related to postsecondary training that students received.   

Associate’s Degrees

• Among the 10 associate’s degree programs with the highest number of completers statewide, those in four of the programs earned wages that were below the state median for all associate’s degrees 1 and 5 years after graduation. The four programs were Business Administration, Business Operations, Liberal Arts, and Management Information Services. Of these, graduates with degrees in Management Information Services also experienced the lowest rate of wage growth among the 10 largest programs.

Bachelor’s Degrees

• Among bachelor’s graduates, there is wide variation in the earnings associated with different instructional programs. In contrast, there is less variation across the earnings of graduates from different universities across the state. This may reflect the facts that graduates from universities tend to be less tied to the local labor market and many graduates from institutions in smaller markets may migrate to larger ones. But the fact remains that if students don’t get into the University of Tennessee, Knoxville—the state’s flagship university—they can graduate from many other universities across the state and do as well in the labor market. 

Labor Market Demand for Postsecondary Completers

• In some fields, many more people are completing training than will likely find employment in that field. In other fields, the state projects many more openings relative to the number of people with the training to fill those openings. The fields of Cosmetology and Journalism are projected to have large numbers of students completing education or training relative to the number of job openings projected to exist. These are relatively low paying fields, but some fields with large numbers of completers relative to openings are high paying—for example, Aviation Maintenance, Mechanical Engineering, Electrical/Computer Engineering, and Business Management.

View the full report here

Measuring the Economic Success of College Graduates: Lessons From the Field

June 17, 2014 09:29

 Mark S. Schneider

Calculating how much recent graduates earn after completing their degree is one way for policymakers to assess the return on state and federal investments in higher education. It’s also an important consideration for students and families, who want at least some assurance that the burden of student loan debt taken on today will be offset by higher earnings in the future. Although the Obama Administration has focused on improving accountability and transparency concerning the cost of higher education, states are leading the way on collecting earnings data about their college and university graduates.

The American Institutes for Research, through CollegeMeasures™, has partnered with seven states to give policymakers and consumers access to data documenting the labor market success of their graduates. This report describes several lessons about how to turn complex data about education and wages into useful information that can improve the lives of students and families:

  • School-level reporting isn’t enough.
  • Consider combining several cohorts of graduates, not just the most recent year’s.
  • Be transparent about who is and isn’t included in recent graduates’ wage reports.
  • When possible, report both short-term and long-term wage outcomes.
  • In addition to reporting on wages, report on students’ loan debt at completion.
  • Capture data on graduates employed out of state.
  • Report information about rates of in-state employment.
  • Use medians, not averages, when reporting wages and student debt.
  • Discuss regional variations in wages.
  • Remind readers that wage reports alone can’t measure added value.

For more detail on each of these key points, see the full report


Higher Education Pays: Measuring the Economic Security of Florida’s Postsecondary Graduates

January 9, 2014 11:20

This report, the result of a partnership between the State of Florida and College Measures, focuses on the median first-year earnings of recent graduates/completers from two-year and four-year institutions across Florida as well as District Technical Centers. It documents the variation in first-year earnings for graduates of specific degree programs at specific colleges and universities. The report also presents data on the percentage of graduates/completers from various institutions that are receiving public assistance, as well as the percentage enrolled in continuing education. Debt accumulated by students, not just graduates, also is reported. The results show that the degrees and certificates students earn, and where they earn them, matter.

View the full report here 

Among the findings in this report:

Florida State Colleges and District Technical Centers

  • The bachelor’s degree and the associate of arts (A.A.) degree, designed as a pathway to the bachelor’s degree, are the two most commonly awarded degrees in Florida. The median first-year earnings of graduates with these degrees are lower, however, than those of graduates of many other degree and certificate programs. For example, graduates with an associate in science (A.S.) degree have median earnings that are more than $11,000 higher than graduates with bachelor’s degrees and almost $20,000 higher than graduates with A.A. degrees who are in the labor market.
  • The graduate’s field of study can greatly affect early career earnings. The median first-year earnings of a graduate with an A.S. degree in child care provider/assistant are around $25,000. A graduate with an A.S. degree in nursing can expect twice as much, and graduates who earned an A.S. degree as an emergency medical technician-paramedic can expect even more.
  • There is a range of median first-year earnings across programs awarding the same degree in the same field of study. Median first-year earnings for emergency medicine technology–paramedic range from less than $50,000 (College of Central Florida and Santa Fe College) to around $65,000 or more (Palm Beach State College, Miami Dade College, Indian River State College, Edison State College, and Broward College).
  • The average federal debt level per student in 2010–11 across Florida state colleges ranges from less than $3,000 at Pensacola State College, Northwest Florida State College, and Florida Gateway College to more than $5,000 per student at St. Petersburg College; Florida Keys Community College; State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota; College of Central Florida; Valencia College; St. Johns River State College; and Broward College.
  • District Technical Centers issued far more career Postsecondary Adult Vocational (PSAV) certificates than did Florida colleges. PSAV certificates issued by District Technical Centers accounted for more than 60% of all the certificates awarded in the state.
  • However, graduates with certificates from the Florida College System (FCS) are more successful in the labor market. For example, 76% of college graduates/completers who were awarded PSAV certificates were found to be employed compared with 68% with PSAV certificates from District Technical Centers. In addition, the median first-year earnings for the five-year period of study (academic years 2006–07 through 2010–11) of graduates/completers from colleges were higher ($34,628) than the earnings ($28,028) of those with certificates from District Technical Centers.
  • More than 15% of graduates/completers who have earned PSAV certificates in District Technical Centers received public assistance, almost double the percentage of those who earned their degrees and certificates from Florida’s state colleges.
  • Students earning associate’s degrees are less likely to have received public assistance than students who earn certificates.


 Florida’s Universities

  • There is variation in the median earnings of graduates with bachelor’s degrees from less than $30,000 at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical (A&M) University to more than $36,000 at Florida International University. Some of this variation is no doubt related to the different economic areas of the state where these campuses serve and students choose to work.
  • The median wages of graduates of four universities (University of Central Florida, Florida Gulf Coast University, University of South Florida, and the University of North Florida) were within $750 of each other, suggesting many university pathways into the labor market that employers value at roughly the same level.
  • Graduates with degrees in psychology, one of the most popular fields of study in state universities, have low first-year earnings, around $6,000 less than the statewide median. Graduates with degrees in political science and English language and literature also fall toward the bottom of the earnings distribution.
  • Among the highest paid graduates are those with degrees in business-related fields (business administration, finance, and accounting). In contrast, graduates with degrees in marketing, another business-related field, have lower first-year earnings.
  • The median statewide federal loan amount per university student is slightly more than $8,000. The amount varies, however, from around $5,100 at Florida Gulf Coast University to more than $13,000 at the University of Florida. Because this amount includes disbursements to both graduate and undergraduate students, there may be some upward pressure on the amount reported in research universities such as Florida State University and the University of Florida. Moreover, this is only federally issued debt, and other sources of loans students may be using to help finance their education are not included in this estimate.
  • During the five-year study period, Florida state colleges awarded more than 6,000 bachelor’s degrees, concentrated in a small number of relatively high-paying fields. In turn, the median first-year earnings of graduates with bachelor’s degrees from Florida’s colleges (around $41,800) are higher than those of graduates with bachelor’s degrees from Florida’s universities (slightly more than $33,600).
  • Graduates with master’s degrees earn more, often far more, than graduates with only bachelor’s degrees. The median first-year earnings of graduates with master’s degrees in Florida is around $49,000 compared with less than $34,000 for graduates with bachelor’s degrees.
  • For field of study, the earnings gained for having a master’s degree, compared with only a bachelor’s degree, range from around $5,000 (elementary education and teaching) to more than $25,000 for several business degree programs and nursing.


Where the Jobs Are 

The report also presents data on the industries and occupations that are likely to be most in demand in future years. Following are some findings.

  • The top three industries with the fastest growth in Florida are related to construction with specialty trade contractors projected to grow the fastest from 2013 to 2021 with annual growth of +3.72%.
  • The health care industry is also projected to grow rapidly due to population gains, the aging population, and improved medical technologies.
  • Another way to look at where the jobs are is to see which industries will be creating the most new jobs, regardless of the growth rate. Some fast-growing industries are relatively small, others are much larger. For example, ambulatory health care services and professional, scientific, and technical services are expected to add numerous new jobs, and both have high growth rates. In contrast, two industries, hospitals and administrative and support services, have lower growth rates, but because they are large industries, will add many more jobs than most of the faster growing industries.
  • Some occupations will have a greater demand relative to supply. Florida projects that only 572 graduates with the academic credentials to become physical therapists will be produced by state colleges and universities between now and 2021. The estimated industry demand, however, is for more than 2,000 therapists during this time, leaving a shortage of around 1,500 trained individuals. Physical therapists are well compensated.
  • Similarly, Florida colleges and universities will produce far fewer securities and financial service sales agents than projected industry demand (a shortage of some 1,800 graduates). These graduates are among the most highly paid graduates in the state. 


More findings are available at:


In addition to, readers interested in more information may want to visit the following sites:

What People are Asking (WPAA) is designed to retrieve Florida job and wage data by area. It features Hot Jobs, What Hot Jobs Pay, and other information of interest to students and parents. provides outcome data on graduates of the Florida College System and District Technical Schools.


Higher Education Pays: But a Lot More for Some Graduates Than for Others

September 3, 2013 02:08
Higher education is one of the most important investments that people make. And most students make this investment because they want a better chance to land a good career and higher earnings. But as they enter the labor market, some graduates earn far more than others. Graduates with the same major but from different schools can take home substantially different amounts of money. And earnings vary widely among graduates from the same school who have chosen different majors.
Based on information from five states that have shared earnings data with College MeasuresTM, this report shows that several factors influence earnings, including what degree graduates earn, what school awarded their degree, and the field in which the degree is earned. Right choices can lead to good careers and high earnings, but wrong ones can leave graduates with mountains of debt and poor prospects of ever paying off their student loans. Meanwhile, high debt is a national
problem: cumulative student debt now tops $1 trillion, and increasing numbers of students are not paying back their loans on time.
Because college credentials are usually associated with higher earnings, taking on reasonable debt or paying high tuition are not necessarily bad choices. Instead, the problem is that too few students know their potential earnings before they enroll in a postsecondary institution and before they take out loans to pay for their education.
Prospective students need sound information about where their educational choices are likely to lead. This information can save students money, keep them from making bad choices, and prevent a lot of future financial headaches.
Parents, students, and political leaders have been asking for better evidence of what happens to graduates after they enter the labor market. Although the federal government is making strides in this area,4 many states are far ahead on collecting earnings data about graduates of colleges and universities. College MeasuresTM is working with many of these leading states to make available to the public information about how much graduates earn.
Since mid-2012, with the support of the Lumina Foundation, College MeasuresTM has partnered with the states of Arkansas, Colorado, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia to put the earnings of graduates in the public’s eye. With these data, anyone can learn about the earnings that graduates will likely earn for every program of study among colleges and universities in the state. In all states, earnings data now cover only the early careers of graduates.
These five states differ from each other in important ways—for example, in the strength of their overall and regional economies. But earnings data reveal some patterns across these states. Four lessons can be culled from these patterns. These lessons should help students make smarter decisions about what to study and how much to borrow.

View the full report here

Two-Year Technical Degree Grads in Texas have Higher First-Year Median Earnings than Bachelor Grads

May 7, 2013 10:19

Higher Education Pays:The Initial Earnings of Graduates of Texas Public Colleges and Universities

Texas, with more than 25 million residents, is home to more than 8% of the U.S. population. Texas is also fast growing: Between 2000 and 2010, its growth rate of 20.6% was more than twice that of the nation. Texas has a slightly larger concentration of students approaching traditional college age than the nation as a whole: About 7.5% of its population is between the ages of 15 and 19, higher than the 7.1% national average. This percentage translates into an existing pool of around 2 million young students who are or soon will be reaching traditional college age. In turn, high demand is likely to continue for admission to colleges and universities throughout the state.

As students make their decisions about where to invest their time and money in pursuit of postsecondary degrees, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) is working with College MeasuresTM to make publicly available the first-year earnings of recent graduates from two- and four-year public institutions across the state who are working in Texas one year after obtaining their degree or certificate.

The results suggest that the degree a student earns matters, but that there are important variations in returns by program and by institution. This report documents some of the differences in first-year earnings ranging from certificate programs through master’s programs.

Among the findings are:

  • Technical-oriented associate’s degree programs in the state of Texas are helping many students successfully enter the labor market by equipping them with skills that are in demand. On average, a year after graduation, students with two-year technical degrees have first-year median earnings of more than $50,000, just over $11,000 more than graduates of bachelor’s degree programs across the state.

  • Graduates with these two-year technical degrees earn, on average, about $30,000 more than students who completed academically oriented two-year degrees and are now in the labor force.

  • The first-year earnings of graduates from different community colleges vary widely. For academic associate’s degrees, the range is from around $10,000 (Ranger College) to more than $30,000 for graduates from the Trinity Campus of Tarrant County Junior College and from Central Texas Community College. For graduates with technical degrees the range is even greater, from approximately $20,000 for graduates from Clarendon College to more than $65,000 for graduates from seven community colleges: College of the Mainland Community College District, San Jacinto College South Campus, Tarrant County Junior College South Campus, Galveston College, El Centro College, Trinity Valley Community College, and Weatherford College.

  • Certificates are one of the fastest-growing credentials offered by community colleges. The median first-year earnings of certificate holders often exceed those of graduates from academic and technical associate’s programs. For example, the median first-year earnings of certificate holders in Business Administration/Management ($36,987) exceed those with academic associate’s degrees in the same field of study by $11,000. In criminal justice/police sciences, the median first-year earnings of certificate holders ($48,230) exceed academic associate’s degree holders in criminal justice by more than $24,000 and those with a technical associate’s degree by about $11,500. In contrast, across Texas, graduates with technical associate’s degrees in Registered Nursing/Registered Nurse programs earn close to $50,000 more than new certificate holders in the same field of study ($68,059 vs. $19,729).

  • The median first-year wages of graduates from some certificate programs are above $70,000, or $30,000 more than the Texas-wide median bachelor’s degree salary. Among these highpaying programs, health care is well represented, along with certificates in construction, such as Construction Engineering Technology/Technician (Brazosport College), Electrician (Lee College), and Pipefitting (Lee College). A number of certificate programs turning out technicians in engineering, industrial technology, and instrumentation (e.g., from Brazosport College, San Jacinto College Central Campus, and Frank Phillips College) are also on the list of high-paying programs.

  • In contrast, in two dozen certificate programs, recipients earned less than $13,000 in their first year. The largest concentration of these low-paying certificate programs is in cosmetology (10 programs) and four are in nursing/patient care assistants. One program in computer and information systems (from Alamo Community College–San Antonio College) and one in Network and System Administration/Administrator (Laredo Community College) are on the list.

  • The median first-year earnings of bachelor’s degree recipients statewide are around $39,000. However, there is a wide range in earnings, depending upon field of study: First-year earnings in popular fields of study range from around $25,000 (Biology) to around $47,000 (Accounting).

  • More generally, despite the interest in increasing the number of graduates in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), biology graduates at both the bachelor’s and the master’s level earn below statewide medians. In contrast, there is a premium for bachelor’s graduates in mathematics, who out earn biology graduates by more than $20,000 statewide and all bachelor’s graduates by more than $9,000.

  • Master’s degree graduates earn more—often far more—than students with a bachelor’s degree. The median first-year earnings of master’s graduates in Texas are $63,340, or $24,000 higher than the median first-year earnings of bachelor’s graduates.

  • The smallest difference (less than $5,000) between graduates with a bachelor’s degree and those with a master’s degree is in multi- or interdisciplinary studies. A person with a master’s degree in engineering earns about $14,000 more than a person with a bachelor’s degree, but graduates with either degree are the highest paid in that field. Graduates with master’s degrees in accounting earn almost $20,000 more than recent bachelor’s degree recipients in accounting. The largest difference is in business administration, with an increment of more than $44,000 in first-year wages for master’s graduates versus bachelor’s graduates.

View the full report here