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UW System unveils first-of-its-kind study looking at graduates' earnings

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University of Wisconsin System graduates earn a median annual salary of just under $50,000 after receiving their bachelor’s degree, according to a first-of-its-kind System study released Sunday.

The findings come at a time when the value of a college degree is in doubt by some members of the public and incoming college students weigh where they should attend school in the fall, if at all, because of COVID-19.

“When people are trying to decide whether a public university education is right for them, they should look at this data,” System President Ray Cross said in an announcement.

The project looked at graduation, residency and earnings data of about 12,000 graduates over five years. It cost $267,000, according to System officials.

UW campuses and their alumni associations have long sent out surveys to their graduates, asking them where they live, where they work and how much they earn. But the nature of following students for several years after they leave campus often yields a low response rate. Students self-select to participate, which can also skew results.

The System took a new approach for this study, contracting with Equifax, which identified employment records of UW graduates and sent the confidential, anonymized data to the System’s Office of Policy Analysis and Research for analysis.

Among the findings:

  • Graduates earned a median annual salary of nearly $50,000 a year out of college, almost $59,000 three years out of school and about $66,500 five years after graduation, though salaries varied depending on field.
  • Nearly 90% of in-state students remained in Wisconsin five years after finishing college.
  • About 15% of out-of-state students still lived in the Badger State five years after earning their degree.

Campus-by-campus information was not available Sunday, but System officials said more data will be released in the coming months.


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