Average Starting Salaries Up for Recent Graduates

Business degree holders’ starting pay outpaced the average but fell from previous years

By Stephen Miller, CEBS Apr 22, 2015

In the U.S., Class of 2014 college graduates at the bachelor’s degree level commanded an average (mean) starting salary of $48,127, up 5.8 percent from the average starting salaries for the Class of 2013, according to an April 2015 report from the nonprofit National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), which analyzed data through the end of 2014.

While that spike handily outpaced the 1.2 percent increase in new graduates’ starting salaries from 2012 to 2013, it fell below the estimated 7.5 percent rise predicted for new college graduates as of midyear 2014. While economic recovery continues in the U.S., it remains weaker than many forecasters had expected.

NACE’s April 2015 Salary Survey report also shows that the median Class of 2014 starting salary was slightly lower than the mean, coming in at $45,478.

Graduates with degrees in the engineering and business fields beat that overall average; their average starting salaries were $64,891 and $49,807 respectively, although business majors’ starting salaries again fell from the previous year.

Starting Salaries: Class of 2014

Student Category


25th Percentile








Business majors





Engineering majors





Liberal arts and humanities majors





Source: Spring 2015 Salary Survey report, National Association of Colleges and Employers. All data are for bachelor’s degree-level graduates.

‘Leveling’ Ends

The $48,127 mean starting salary for 2014 graduates was roughly 5.8 percent higher than the Class of 2013 mean starting salary of $45,473, which in turn had been just 1.2 percent higher than the average starting salary of $44,928 reported for the class of 2012. The sizeable growth suggests an end to the post-recession leveling of new salary increases as the market responds to a rising demand for new graduate talent—just not quite as high a demand as was previously forecast.

Student Category

2014 Mean

2013 Mean

2012 Mean





Business majors




Engineering majors




Liberal arts and humanities majors (2014); Liberal arts and social sciences majors (2013 and 2012)




Source: Spring 2015 and Spring 2014 Salary Survey reports, National Association of Colleges and Employers. All data are for bachelor’s degree-level graduates.

Going forward, employers are increasing their initial hiring projections for this year’s college class, as they now plan to hire 9.6 percent more new graduates from the Class of 2015 for their U.S. operations than they did from the Class of 2014. That could signal a larger bump up in starting pay for new graduates, assuming that economic growth doesn't hit a roadblock.

Business Degrees Adjust

Graduates earning degrees in business fields through 2014 again bucked the salary increase trend and instead saw their starting salaries fall from $53,901 to $49,807—though still above the overall average for new graduates. In 2012, however, graduates earning degrees in business fields had seen one of the highest increases in their average starting salary relative to other majors—at 7.1 percent—which apparently proved too exuberant for the market to sustain.

The increase in new graduate salaries also outpaced the average salary raise received by active employees in 2014, broadly found to have risen 3 percent, on average, from a 2.9 percent increase in 2013, with considerable variations based on location, job position and industry.

Data analyzed by NACE were reported through its national First-Destination Survey by more than 140 colleges and universities nationwide, and represent data for more than 45,000 bachelor’s degree graduates. Data were gathered from Class of 2014 graduates through Dec.30, 2014, and reported to NACE through March 15, 2015. The April 2015 Salary Survey represents the final salary report for the Class of 2014.

Another Viewpoint

In a separate survey from CareerBuilder, a job-search site, 65 percent of employers said they plan to hire recent college graduates in 2015, up from 57 percent last year and the highest outlook since 2007. One third will offer higher pay than last year, and 1 in 4 will pay $50,000 or more.

“New college graduates have better prospects this year than in years’ past—both in terms of opportunities and salary offers,” said Rosemary Haefner, chief HR officer of CareerBuilder. “They still face challenges, however. One in five employers feel colleges do not adequately prepare students with crucial workplace competencies, including soft skills and real-world experience that might be gained through things like internships. Job seekers with a good mix of both technical and soft skills will have the best prospects right out of college.”

The CareerBuilder survey was conducted from Feb. 11 to March 6, 2015, and included a representative sample of 2,175 hiring managers and human resource professionals across industries and company sizes.

Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM. Follow him on Twitter @SHRMsmiller.

Related SHRM Article:

Sunny Hiring Projections Greet Class of 2015 Grads, SHRM Online Staffing Management, April 2015

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