Early Report: Lower Average Salary for College Class of 2010

By Stephen Miller Mar 10, 2010

Starting salary offers to Class of 2010 college graduates in the U.S. are down compared to those offered a year earlier, according to a study published by the not-for-profit National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).

The winter 2010 issue of NACE’s Salary Survey shows that the overall average offer to a bachelor’s degree graduate is $48,351, down 2 percent from the average offer of $49,353 made to Class of 2009 bachelor’s degree graduates.

“The dip is not surprising, given the decreased demand we’re seeing for new college graduates,” says Marilyn Mackes, NACE executive director.

Among employers responding to the NACE survey, just 29 percent said they would increase their starting salary offers for the Class of 2010.

Computer, Engineer Grads See Gains

While the overall average offer to the Class of 2010 fell, the salary direction of majors varied.

Among the business disciplines, for example, accounting majors and finance graduates saw their averages fall, but by less than 1 percent. The average offer to accounting majors, $47,982, represents a 0.7 percent drop, while finance majors, with an average offer of $49,607, saw a 0.4 percent decrease.

Business administration/management graduates saw their average offer drop 1.5 percent to $45,200.

Graduates with computer-related degrees(computer programming, computer science, computer systems analysis and information sciences/systems) posted a 6.1 percent increase—the highest increase reported in the winter 2010 Salary Survey, which pushed their average up from $56,128 to $59,570. Among those earning the computer science degree, the average rose 4.8 percent to $61,205.

As a whole, engineering graduates also fared well. Their average salary offer as a group is up by 1.2 percent to $59,245. Although that increase is modest, engineering majors account for eight of 10 top-paid bachelor’s degrees in the winter 2010 survey.

Top-Paid U.S. Bachelor's Degrees, Winter 2010

Petroleum Engineering


Chemical Engineering


Mining & Mineral Engineering (including geological)


Computer Science


Computer Engineering


Electrical/Electronics & Communications Engineering


Mechanical Engineering


Industrial/Manufacturing Engineering


Aerospace/Aeronautical/Astronautical Engineering


Information Sciences & Systems


Source: National Association of Colleges and Employers

They didn’t make the “top-paid degrees list,” but civil engineering graduates posted the largest increase among the engineering disciplines. Their average offer rose 3.6 percent to $52,605. Electrical engineering grads also posted a healthy increase—2.9 percent—raising their average salary offer to $59,074.

Chemical engineering grads earned the second highest salary offer in this report—$65,142—but that average is actually down compared to 2009, albeit by less than 1 percent. Similarly, mechanical engineering graduates saw a small dip in their average salary offer, which is down 0.4 percent to $58,392.

Liberal arts majors saw their average offer fall significantly compared to the average reported in the winter 2009 Salary Survey report. In winter 2010 the overall average stood at $32,555, down almost 11 percent from the previous year's reported average of $36,445.

“This first look at salaries for the Class of 2010 shows many disciplines posting lower salaries, but it’s important to put this in perspective,” says Mackes. “Data are limited, and graduation is several months away.”

The quarterly NACE Salary Survey is a quarterly report of starting salary offers to new college graduates in 70 disciplines at the bachelor's degree level. The survey compiles data from college and university career services offices nationwide.

Stephen Miller is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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