WMU News

Young workers aim for more than high salaries

Aug. 20, 2003

KALAMAZOO -- A quality work life is more valuable to most recent Western Michigan University graduates than a huge paycheck, according to the results of an employment survey published this summer by WMU's Career & Student Employment Services.

The 2003 edition of CSES' annual "Recent Graduate Survey" asked new alumni to rate the factors that are most important to them when considering whether to accept employment offers.

"It was the first time we asked the question, and the response was intriguing," says Linda Ickes, CSES associate director for external affairs. "Salary wasn't among the top factors our members of the 'Millennial Generation' consider. This indicates a paradigm shift compared to the competitive starting salaries and signing bonuses we saw several years ago."

Ickes says 59 percent of those responding to WMU's 2003 survey rated benefits and work place culture/co-workers as very important. About half of those responding also rated geographic location, promotion opportunities and an employer's reputation as very important.

"Salary received a very important rating from only 40 percent of respondents, making it the sixth highest priority, and being paid a signing bonus was dead last," Ickes says. "The millennials aren't just saying: 'Show me the money.' They also value many other aspects of their work life."

WMU's "Recent Graduate Survey" annually reviews 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 3,800 undergraduate and graduate students who received degrees between August 2001 and June 2002. The response rate at both levels was 25 percent.

George Eskro, CSES associate director for student development, says engineers reported drawing the biggest salaries among recent WMU graduates, just as in the previous year.

Median salaries listed in the current survey, broken down by college and degree level, are: College of Engineering and Applied Sciences--$46,800 undergraduate, $64,000 graduate; Haworth College of Business--$35,540 undergraduate, $58,380 graduate; College of Health and Human Services--$34,850 undergraduate, $42,100 graduate; College of Education--$31,500 undergraduate, $42,200 graduate; College of Arts and Sciences--$31,000 undergraduate, $46,340 graduate; College of Aviation--$29,500 undergraduate, no salary available at the graduate level because the college offers no advanced programs; and College of Fine Arts, undergraduate-$29,300, graduate-$32,625.

Eskro cautions that median salaries are based on a relatively small sampling--survey respondents only--and may be inflated if the respondents were established in a career field prior to graduation. He also notes that for several specific academic programs, not enough alumni responded to be able to provide a statistically significant median salary.

"The survey gives us a feel for what's going on in the labor market, not a complete picture," Eskro says. "In general, it lets us know how our alumni are doing and the kind of salaries they command."

Based on the latest survey, he says respondents with degrees in computer information systems, computer engineering and other technology-oriented areas were among those struggling the most in 2001-02.

"A lot of recent graduates in sluggish sectors of the economy like technology had difficulty finding full-time employment in their areas of academic study," Eskro says. "In fact, the total number of respondents who reported finding a job related to their program areas dropped from 95 to 84 percent for recipients of graduate degrees and remained depressed for recipients of undergraduate degrees, moving up just one point to 77 percent."

But he says the survey also contained some good news, especially for graduates of programs in engineering, business and key arts and sciences fields. Demand traditionally remains relatively strong for these graduates even during economic downturns.

"In terms of the College of Arts and Sciences, it's impressive to look at our biology and criminal justice alumni. Many of them found good jobs in their career fields," Eskro says, adding that median salaries were up for both bachelor's and advanced degree recipients from this college. "In addition, those with engineering and business degrees held their own, with majors in mechanical engineering, manufacturing engineering technology, accountancy, finance, marketing, and integrated supply matrix management doing particularly well in terms of marketability and starting salary."

The total median salary for alumni taking part in the 2003 survey held steady at $44,750 for graduate degree recipients and increased from $33,900 to $34,764 for undergraduate degree recipients.

Recent WMU graduates may take part in the survey or view national starting salary figures online at <www.broncojobs.wmich.edu>.

Media note: For more information about WMU's "Recent Graduate Survey," call George Eskro in Career & Student Employment Services at 269 387-2745.

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

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