New data on UW–Madison graduates support value of college degree

April 24, 2019 By Doug Erickson

A University of Wisconsin–Madison pilot project is providing new insights into the economic well-being and career progress of its graduates.

The project looks at the median earnings of UW–Madison graduates ­— by area of study and degree level — one, five and 10 years after graduating. The data are available on UW–Madison’s website.

“We’re pleased to offer these data as an important step to a fuller understanding of the benefits of investing in a UW–Madison education,” Chancellor Rebecca Blank says. “The findings illustrate the success of our graduates across all of our 13 schools and colleges and more than 100 fields of study.”

The project is considered an early effort at developing the kinds of data systems that demonstrate the economic value of a college education and the contributions of graduates to the state and the country. Among the findings, it shows that as early as five years after graduation (before the age of 30 for many of these students), graduates from about one third of majors have median individual earnings of more than $60,000. That’s ahead of the median annual income of an entire Wisconsin household (about $60,000).

The project is a cutting-edge collaboration involving the UW–Madison Academic Planning and Institutional Research office, the U.S. Census Bureau’s Post-Secondary Employment Outcomes project, and the Institute for Research on Innovation & Science (IRIS) at the University of Michigan. The collaboration began in 2017. IRIS, a consortium of universities, is led by Executive Director Jason Owen-Smith.

Only a handful of other institutions have partnered with the Census Bureau on such a project. They are the University of Texas System, public institutions in Colorado, and the University of Michigan.

“This report moves us toward a more systematic understanding of the economic lives of our graduates,” says Jocelyn Milner, vice provost for academic affairs and lead on the project at UW–Madison. “It serves as a foundation as we learn more about where graduates live and work, what kind of work they do, and other ways that education shows positive impacts on graduates and their communities.”

The data are generated by matching records of graduates with earnings data based on unemployment insurance earnings files provided by all states to the U.S. Census Bureau. The matching, analysis and production of the tabulations was conducted by the Census Bureau using its state-of-the-art confidentiality and privacy protocols.

About 70 percent of UW–Madison graduates are represented in the earnings data. Graduates may not be included for various reasons, including if they are working outside of the U.S., are working for employers not covered by unemployment insurance, or work only seasonally. Graduates who are enrolled in subsequent education who do not have earnings in the specified time are not included in the data.

It is important to note that these are not projections or forecasts. These data reflect what graduates did earn, not what they could earn. Rapid innovation, industry change and new career fields are among the factors that will impact future data. Also, the figures do not consider the type of decisions people routinely make about work/life balance.