WMU News

It still pays to be an engineer

May 23, 2002

KALAMAZOO -- Engineers continue to bring home the biggest paychecks among recent Western Michigan University graduates, according to the results of an employment survey published in April by WMU's Career and Student Employment Services.

The results appear in the 2002 edition of CSES' annual "Recent Graduate Survey," which tracks the status of alumni who complete programs offered by the University's seven degree-granting colleges. This year's publication is based on responses to a questionnaire sent to some 4,800 undergraduate and graduate students who received degrees between August 2000 and June 2001.

"WMU alumni with degrees from the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences are still leading the pack at both the undergraduate and the graduate level in terms of starting salaries in their fields," says Linda Ickes, CSES associate director for external affairs.

"They led in 1999-2000 and have maintained their ability to get jobs."

Ickes theorizes that WMU-trained engineers have remained marketable in large part because the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences turns out workers who hit the ground running. Similarly, she says, many graduates of the College of Health and Human Services and Haworth College of Business are finding success in the job market for the same reason.

"Despite the slow economy, we saw a huge boost in quick responses from undergraduate majors in construction engineering, nursing, occupational therapy and integrated supply matrix management," Ickes says. "These alumni are cranking--they're landing jobs in their professions soon after graduating. They're doing what they came to school to do."

Median salaries reported in the 2002 "Recent Career Survey," broken down by college and degree level, are: College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, undergraduate-$44,000, graduate-$65,000; College of Health and Human Services, undergraduate-$37,000, graduate-$33,000; Haworth College of Business, undergraduate-$36,000, graduate-$52,000; College of Education, undergraduate-$32,500, graduate-$42,000; College of Aviation, undergraduate-$30,000, graduate-no programs offered; College of Arts and Sciences, undergraduate-$26,000, graduate-$44,000; and College of Fine Arts, undergraduate-$25,000, graduate-$39,000.

Ickes cautions that median salaries are based solely on wages reported by a relatively small number of survey respondents and do not reflect all of the academic programs available at WMU or how many survey respondents were well established in a career field prior to receiving their degrees. She also warns that salary averages were attached to individual programs only when three or more alumni reported majoring in the field and also reported having a job title related to the field.

The latter criterion helped skew summary statistics for the College of Health and Human Services, Ickes says, noting that this academic unit's overall median salary was higher at the undergraduate level than at the graduate level. The anomaly occurred because no statistically significant salary data was obtained in the highest-paying health and human services fields.

Despite such anomalies, Ickes says the "Recent Career Survey" is a valuable tool that gives CSES an indication of how WMU's graduates are doing in the job market and the kind of salaries they command. It can be a boon to career advisors as they help students and alumni plan their futures and to University officials as they develop required materials for accreditation documents.

"There are clear benefits to doing the employment survey, but our return rate has been shrinking," Ickes says. "A rate of 15 to 20 percent is pretty common for young adults who move frequently and are in transition. Unfortunately, we've fallen below that."

In an effort to boost the response rate, CSES has updated the survey instrument and just this past April, made it available online. The office also has been collaborating with WMU's colleges and the WMU Alumni Association to increase awareness of the survey.

One outcome of that teamwork has been a broadening of career services for alumni, all of whom receive a one-year complimentary Alumni Association membership upon graduating. Now, the Office of Alumni Relations also picks up the tab so alumni have access to CSES' BroncoJobs services for as long as they remain association members.

That access connects alumni with career advisors who can coach them at any stage during their careers and help them sort out their interests and skills as well as practice handling interviews and accepting or declining job offers. In addition, resources such as job postings and a resume referral service are conveniently available through the <www.broncojobs.wmich.edu> Web site.

"Sometimes we work with professionals who have been employed for 15, 20 or 30 years and need to polish their resumes because of layoffs and downsizing or because they're ready for a career change," Ickes says. "It's nice because we have a lot of relationships with employers. Alumni many find a job posting, but it's the networking they're able to do once they get involved with us that often gets them in the door."

Media contact: Jeanne Baron, 269 387-8400, jeanne.baron@wmich.edu

Media note: For more information about the "Recent Graduate Survey," call Linda Ickes (pronounced ICK-us) in Career and Student Employment Services at (269) 387-2745. For details about WMU's career resources, visit <www.broncojobs.wmich.edu>. The National Association of Colleges and Employers' April quarterly salary survey is available at <www.naceweb.org>.

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