A new state report shows that college graduates with associate degrees start out with higher salaries in Louisiana and are more likely to stay in state than their counterparts with more prestigious bachelor’s degrees.
But bachelor’s degree graduates typically earn more money after five years and often find quality jobs out of state, state Commissioner of Higher Education Jim Purcell said.
The joint Louisiana Board of Regents and Louisiana Workforce Commission report shows that nearly two-thirds of the state’s college graduates from Louisiana stay in Louisiana and have jobs within the state in six months or sooner. The report will be released when the Regents meet Wednesday.
But many more total graduates are needed, Purcell said.
“The basic idea is if we educate Louisianans, they’re going to be participating in our economy at much, much higher rates than nonresidents,” Purcell said. “To me this indicates we can really raise our own economy.”
The new “Employment Outcomes Report” is the beginning of a new effort to begin tracking students after they graduate to better connect colleges with workforce needs, Purcell said, even though the numbers are not perfect and not everyone is counted. The wage record system used for data collection does not count self-employed graduates and federal employees, for instance.
Nearly 25 percent of out-of-state students who earn degrees in Louisiana get jobs within the state and opt to stay within 18 months, according to the report. Purcell said that approaches national standards.
The best-paying entry-level jobs in Louisiana for those with bachelor’s degrees are in engineering, with an average salary of $64,154 within 18 months after graduating. Engineering technologies at $53,653 and health professions at $48,600 rank second and third, respectively, according to the report.
But, overall, the average associate degree graduate makes $35,544 within 18 months after graduating, compared with $32,742 for bachelor’s degree graduates.
“Coming right out of the gate, the associates are working more than the bachelor’s,” Purcell said. “If we can emphasize the technical sides, we can really give people a good start on a career.”
Because the majority of Louisiana’s college degrees awarded are bachelor’s degrees, Purcell said the associate degree graduates may seem better because they are more selectively choosing higher-paying professions and because many already have careers and are returning to school to enhance their credentials.
Many of those jobs are in engineering fields, the oil industry, health professions and more, according to the report.
Louisiana’s public colleges produced more than 38,000 total degrees and certificates this past year, he said, which is a 28 percent increase in five years.
Most of those gains have come from associate and certificate awards, he said. That is because the state’s rapidly growing Louisiana Community and Technical College System only got off the ground just more than a decade ago.
Currently, 56 percent of new college freshmen in Louisiana start out at universities, while 44 percent are at community or technical colleges, Purcell said. That gap used to be much wider and is moving in the right direction, he said, but the goal is to reverse that balance by bringing in more students falling through the cracks to two-year colleges.
Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Shreveport rank among the best cities for new college graduates, Purcell said, and the state is improving, even with budget cuts to colleges.
Louisiana must focus on developing an educated workforce, Purcell said, “or we’re basically going to be a location for cheap labor.”