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Surveys: UW-Madison liberal arts grads landing jobs

October 7, 2015 By Tom Ziemer

New data from the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s College of Letters & Science shows the school’s liberal arts graduates are thriving after earning their degrees.

Nearly 90 percent of alumni are employed full time, attending graduate school, or both, according to two surveys conducted by the UW–Madison Survey Center. The first survey focused on 2012-13 graduates and the second on graduates from 2003-04 to 2005-06.

“Our liberal arts graduates are highly competitive on the job market,” says Rebekah Pare, executive director of the L&S Career Initiative and Career Services. “Not only are our graduates finding meaningful work in a wide range of private and public industries, we can definitively say that their academic preparation is setting them up for long-term professional success.”

Letters & Science Dean John Karl Scholz launched the L&S Career Initiative in 2013 to help liberal arts students identify their strengths and interests, develop professional networks and think beyond their degrees much earlier in their college experiences. The surveys will provide an important baseline for future LSCI efforts.

The young alumni survey shows recent L&S graduates outperforming national benchmarks in employment, underemployment and unemployment rates. Among the results:

—86.8 percent are either employed full time, attending graduate school, or both employed and continuing their education. That’s above the 73.4 percent placement rate for public institutions nationwide as reported by the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

—Of those working full time, 64.3 percent are in jobs that require a bachelor’s degree, compared to about 52 percent of recent college graduates surveyed in 2013 research from the Center for College Affordability and Productivity.

—5.9 percent are not engaged in paid employment; the national unemployment rate for young adults aged 22-26 with bachelor’s degrees is 7.5 percent, according to the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce. Of that 5.9 percent, less than one-third have either been laid off or have not found a job since graduation.

Of the alumni working full time one year after graduation, approximately 76 percent earn annual salaries of $30,000 or more.

The survey of alumni eight to 10 years after graduation shows 89.4 percent either employed full time, attending graduate school, or employed and continuing their education. Of those employed full time, 77.6 percent hold positions requiring a bachelor’s degree. Just 4.3 percent of the mid-career alumni are not engaged in paid employment. Of those, more than 60 percent have chosen not to be employed or are not working because of family responsibilities.

Of the mid-career alumni holding full-time positions, 55.4 percent earn annual salaries of $60,000 or more, with 20.6 percent earning $100,000 or more.

Across both surveys, more than 90 percent of alumni say they would choose to attend UW–Madison again. And more than 70 percent of those employed full time from both alumni surveys said their academic preparation at UW–Madison has given them an advantage over employees from other institutions.

The L&S data backs up numerous other surveys that show employers value the broad skills possessed by liberal arts graduates. In a 2014 report by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, 93 percent of employers said candidates’ ability to think critically, communicate clearly and solve complex problems was more important than their undergraduate major.

The 2012-13 class survey is based on 1,376 responses out of a possible 3,206 (42.9 percent response rate); the 2003-06 graduate survey is based on 2,523 responses from a possible 5,118 (49.7 percent). Both response rates far exceed industry averages.

Full reports from both surveys are available online at: and