Analysis Finds Wide Wage Disparities Among Virginia College Grads

Washington, D.C. – Recent graduates of Virginia colleges who majored in nursing or business draw higher salaries in their first year out of college than their peers who earned degrees in history or English, according to an analysis of newly released data on the first year earnings of alumni. In some cases, those with an associate’s degree out-earn those with a bachelor’s.

The report analyzes data released to the public by the State Council on Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV) on October 6. It compares the average first-year earnings of recent graduates of public and private two-year and four-year institutions across Virginia, and examines the wages of graduates from individual degree programs. The data is limited to graduates employed in Virginia.

The report is the result of a partnership between SCHEV and College Measures, a nonpartisan organization that provides data and analysis on higher education. College Measures is a joint venture of the American Institutes for Research (AIR) and the Matrix Knowledge Group. The study was funded by the Lumina Foundation.

The analysis is online, along with a user-friendly search tool that lets students and parents see a breakdown of salaries by college or major, at

“This vital consumer information brings a new dimension to the process of deciding where to go to college, what major to pursue, and what is a realistic debt to incur in order to earn a degree,” said Mark Schneider, a vice president at AIR and president of College Measures, which also is working with Tennessee, Arkansas and other states to provide more information for making decisions about college.

Among the most popular bachelor degree programs, the average first-year wages for those who worked in the state was $36,067. Registered nursing generated the highest average wages at $48,959. The next six highest paying programs were all business degrees: finance majors averaged $42,131; accounting, $42,110; and business administration, $38,578. In comparison, political science graduates earned $31,184; history majors, $30,230; and English majors were paid $29,222 on average.

The data show substantial variations across programs, with average first-year earnings for some bachelor’s degree programs exceeding $60,000, while others are less than $30,000. For example, graduates from University of Richmond’s business administration program earned between $2,500 and $19,000 more than graduates in the same program from other universities.

The findings also show:

  • Of the most popular courses of study, recipients of four-year nursing degrees earned the most in average first-year of wages – $48,959. Those with biology degrees earned the least, at $27,893. Those with two-year nursing degrees averaged $45,342.
  • Graduates of occupational/technical associate’s degree programs, with an average salary of just under $39,000, out-earned not only nonoccupational associate’s degree graduates by about $5,800, but also out-earned bachelor’s degree graduates by almost $2,500.
  • Graduates of occupational/technical associate’s degree programs, with an average salary of just under $40,000, out-earned not only nonoccupational associate’s degree graduates – by about $6,000 – but also bachelor’s degree graduates by almost $2,500 statewide.
  • At the bachelor’s degree level, the highest-earning graduates came from two career-oriented programs at the University of Richmond, where those who majored in information sciences and in human resources management averaged more than $69,000 per year. Meanwhile, graduates from sixteen programs across Virginia – most of them liberal arts programs, such as philosophy or fine arts – earned on average less than $24,000.
  • Among many community colleges, the earnings of graduates with an occupational and technical associate’s degree could be $10,000 more than those with a non-occupational associate’s degree.

In Virginia, bachelor’s degree holders earn on average 67 percent more than high school graduates, and 40 percent more than those who have some postsecondary education but no degree, both of which are slightly higher than the national averages.

The study links student records with unemployment insurance wage data. It focuses on the first-year earnings of students who graduated from a Virginia institution from 2006-2010. The authors stressed that these are initial wages, which may not indicate long-term earning potential, and that only include graduates in the workforce who are employed in Virginia.

The following chart shows the average first-year earnings of a bachelor’s degree recipient from each of Virginia’s public and private colleges and university. It is based on information available on the College Measures website and is an example of the kinds of comparisons that can be done.


About AIR
Established in 1946, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., the American Institutes for Research (AIR) is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts behavioral and social science research and delivers technical assistance both domestically and internationally in the areas of health, education and workforce productivity. For more information, visit

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