February 16, 2012

University Rankings Often Have Little Impact on Starting Salaries

 Earlier this week I shared some data I compiled showing starting salaries for several majors across a number of different universities.   Then yesterday I made the point that the major choice matters more than the university choice.

Another very important finding from the data I saw was that the ranking of the university  often had little or no correlation to the starting salaries for each major.

With only a couple clear exceptions, it seemed that the university rankings often had very little direct proportional relationship to the starting salaries of graduates.

One might expect that if you have 3 schools, ranked #5, #43 and #110 that the salaries would be highest at the #5 ranked school and the lowest at the #110 school.    More often however in the data I looked at this kind of relationship between school ranking and pay rates did not show up.  You were just as likely to see the highest pay for the #43 school or the #110 school as the #5 school.

I'll look at each major a little closer.

For Computer Science, the rankings mattered

The one major I saw with a pretty solid correlation between the ranking of the school and the wages was computer science.  In general the higher ranked schools all clearly had higher average wages and the lower ranked schools had lower rages.   Graduates of highly ranked schools had salaries that were significantly better than the students from lower ranked universities.  

Psychology majors also benefited at higher ranked schools

The Stanford grads with psychology degrees made substantially more than the psychology majors at other schools.   For psychology the top 3 ranked schools all had higher average starting wages than the lower ranked schools.

Nursing almost has a correlation with one notable exception 

Nursings highest wage was at Pace U. which out earned four schools above them.  However if you set Pace aside then the other 5 schools do get generally higher wages for higher rankings.   The top two schools had higher pay than the middle two which and the bottom ranked school had the lowest pay.  

For all other majors there was no clear correlation between ranking and salary

For the seven other majors of Civil engineers, Chemical Engineers, English majors, Elementary teachers, Communications, Accounting and Nursing, I saw no real correlation between the U.S. News university rankings and the starting salaries of the students.   In these majors the students did not see higher wages when going to higher ranked schools.   Lets look at some examples for each major :

Civil Engineering :  The highest wages were at University of Texas which is ranked #47.    Carnegie Mellon #23 and University of Washington #43 both had higher rankings and lower wages.    Purdue at #62 also had higher wages than CMU or UW even though it was even lower ranked than Texas.  

Chemical Engineering : The lowest average wage was at U. W. ranked #43.   The highest wage was at Texas ranked #47 and the two bottom ranked schools had the 2nd and 3rd highest wages.  

Elementary Education :  Wages for teachers were all over the place.   I assume that the wages are mostly dictated by how much teachers are paid in the given state on average more than anything.  Teachers simply don't make a lot so theres no ta lot of room to get fat paychecks from having an impressive school name on your resume.   Central Michigan had the highest average wages yet they were the lowest ranked school.  Wages at highly ranked U. Penn. were lower than several lower ranked schools.

Communications and English:    The wages for these two majors were up and down across the school rankings.   Unranked C. Michigan had higher wages than 6 higher ranked schools in Communications.   The highest pay for English was at #170 ranked Pace University.

Accounting  :    For accounting the wages seemed to show no relationship to the university rankings.    The wages actually went up as you went down the ranking for the four highest ranked schools for accounting.  

There are other factors involved than simply the U.S. News rankings.

Two big Factors :  Rankings for specific programs and Geographical location.

The U.S. NEws rankings  are a top level ranking of the entire university.   However some schools excel in some areas more than not.   For example Purdue and U. Texas are well thought of engineering schools.   The schools quality and reputation in the field of study may have more impact on salary than the overall U.S. News rankings.

Geographical location also has a big impact on starting salaries.  I would generally expect starting salaries for Kansas State and Wichita graduates to be lower than the pay for Pace University (in New York City) simply  due to the different average pay rates for the state of Kansas versus NYC.    You could also expect that students from Stanford and Cal Poly would have a bit higher wages simply due to living in high cost and high wage California more than not.

The reputation of a school in a specific field of study as well as the varying wage  rates and cost of living for the city or region the school is in could easily have more impact on starting wages than the general U.S. News rankings.



  1. I am not sure there is enough source data for this result to be statistically significant.

  2. SteveD, Yes I'd agree. The numbers are not large enough to necessarily draw a scientific conclusion. But I think the numbers are big enough to have a reasonable certainty about the trends. But no, I didn't really consider this scientific proof. I don't see other sources of such data with more meaningful numbers.



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