STEM Grads' Pay Likely to Be Highest Among Class of 2017

Employers anticipate boosting starting salaries for new graduates

Stephen Miller, CEBS By Stephen Miller, CEBS February 9, 2017

When it comes to projected starting salaries for Class of 2017 graduates, the STEM disciplines—science, technology, engineering and math—still rule.

According to the Winter 2017 Salary Survey report from the nonprofit National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), employers project that average starting salaries for students earning bachelor's degrees in the STEM-related disciplines of engineering, computer science, and math and science will be the highest among Class of 2017 graduates.

However, there's good news for graduates of other disciplines as well: Employers anticipate boosting starting salaries from last year across all categories of majors in the report, with average increases ranging from 2 percent to 15 percent.

The projected average starting salary for engineering majors overall is $66,097, almost 2 percent more than that for Class of 2016 engineering graduates (see table below). The catalyst for this nudge is that the projected average salaries for all of the individual engineering majors exceed $60,000.

Projected Average Salaries by Discipline—Bachelor's Degrees
Category 2017 Average 2016 Average
Computer science$65,540$61,321
Math and science$59,368$55,087
Agriculture/natural resources$54,364$48,729
Social sciences$53,459$46,585
Source: Winter 2017 Salary Survey, National Association of Colleges and Employers.

Graduates earning computer science and math and science degrees are expected to see greater gains than their engineering classmates. The salary projection for graduates earning computer science degrees is $65,540, which is up almost 7 percent from last year. Likewise, at $59,368, the average salary projection for those with new math and science degrees jumped 7.8 percent from last year.

The average salary projection for Class of 2017 business majors is $54,803, an increase of nearly 5 percent over last year's average.

Gains for Social Sciences and Communications

Although the projected starting salaries for Class of 2017 social sciences and communications graduates are lower down on the list, they represent the highest projected increases at 15 percent and 10 percent, respectively.

The average projected salary for Class of 2017 social sciences graduates climbed to $53,459, while employers plan to pay communications graduates an average of $51,925.

Salaries for humanities graduates are also projected to rise, although not as dramatically. The average salary projection of $48,733 for the Class of 2017 is up 5.8 percent over last year's average.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Building a Market-Based Pay Structure from Scratch]

Master's Degree Graduates

Computer science graduates top the list of highest-paid majors at the master's degree level for the Class of 2017. Their overall average salary projection of $81,039 is more than 12 percent higher than last year's average of $72,080. 

Projected Average Salaries by Discipline—Master's Degrees
Category 2017 Average Salary 2016 Average Salary
Computer science$81,039$72,080
Business $74,066$71,663
Source: Winter 2017 Salary Survey, National Association of Colleges and Employers.

Each of the individual majors within this category—computer science (10.6 percent), information sciences and systems (13.7 percent), and software applications (14.6 percent)—show significant increases and have average salary projections that are hovering near the $80,000 mark.

While master's degree engineering graduates topped the list of highest-paid majors last year, they have dropped one place for the Class of 2017. Their overall average salary projection, however, is still up 1.6 percent from the average projection of $73,871 for the Class of 2016.

Likewise, business degree graduates at the master's degree level are also projected to receive higher average starting salaries, with their overall average projection of $74,066 up 3.4 percent from last year ($71,663). The individual average salary projection increases for both economics (11.8 percent) and marketing (10.9 percent) graduates appear to be driving the jump. However, tempering the overall increase are the average salary projections for logistics/supply chain (down 6.3 percent), sales (down 5.9 percent) and finance (down 1.5 percent) majors.

Specific MBA graduates are likely to receive average salaries that are greater than the overall average as their current projection of $81,685 is up 5.2 percent over last year's projection of $77,657. In addition, MBA graduates, along with marketing graduates ($86,318), have topped the $80,000 mark.

The data contained in NACE's Winter 2017 Salary Survey were obtained by surveying NACE employer members from Aug. 5 through Nov. 30, 2016. 

Related SHRM Online Articles:

Higher Wage Growth Expected for 2017, SHRM Online Compensation, January 2017

Wages Are Rising, Giving HR New Worries, SHRM Online Staffing Management, January 2017

Was this article useful? SHRM offers thousands of tools, templates and other exclusive member benefits, including compliance updates, sample policies, HR expert advice, education discounts, a growing online member community and much more. Join/Renew Now and let SHRM help you work smarter.


Job Finder

Find an HR Job Near You
Search Jobs


Find the Right Vendor for Your HR Needs

SHRM’s HR Vendor Directory contains over 10,000 companies

Search & Connect

HR Daily Newsletter

News, trends and analysis, as well as breaking news alerts, to help HR professionals do their jobs better each business day.