March 2, 2014

BUSINESS NEWS | Engineers See Highest Starting Pay

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As the Class of 2014 receives job offers and joins the workforce, Cornell Career Services administrators say that graduates from the College of Engineering earn the highest starting salary on average compared to graduates from the other undergraduate colleges.

Graduates from the College of Engineering earn a starting salary of $70,135 on average, according to Career Services’ Class of 2012 Postgraduate Report — a survey completed by graduates six months after their graduation. On the other hand, graduates from the School of Industrial and Labor Relations ranked second, earning an average starting salary of $52,365.

Strong technical skills, attention to detail and supply-demand forces have helped engineering students to earn the highest starting pay on average, according to Mark Savage, director of Cooperative Education and Career Services for the College of Engineering.

“If you look at an area like computer science, I think there is going to be a huge gap between the demand and supply for quite some time. This country is not producing enough people to meet that demand,” he said. “What happens is that those salaries are $20,000 higher than even that of all other engineers.”

In addition to being high in demand, ILR graduates are able to receive high salary offers due to a well-versed education and leadership skills, according to Regina Duffey Moravek, director of the ILR Office of Career Services.

“ILR is a unique school dedicated to the study of work and employment globally,” Moravek said. “Their unique education and academic excellence allow them to receive high salary offers. It’s a good combination of market demand and specialized skill.”

Sparrow said high salary offers for graduates of these colleges are also due to the colleges’ pre-professional nature.

“If you look at the top three [colleges at Cornell in terms of mean] salaries, they are from the pre-professional schools,” she said. “These are students who come to college with a profession in mind and [who] get the credentials and enter their long-term profession immediately.”

Christa Downey, assistant dean and director of College of Arts and Sciences Career Services, echoed Sparrow’s sentiments.

“Engineering students go to school with the intent of being an engineer and those are jobs that are going to pay well,” she said. “Arts and Sciences students explore over 40 majors and have a variety of interests so they are doing everything from communications to public relations to research.”

Downey said competence in language skills, communication and analytical skills further add to the candidacy of students in the arts college.

“We have a very small curriculum across the college, and students are taking classes in a variety of courses leading to a variety of academic experiences,” she said.

Savage said such “soft skills” add to the value of engineering students too, though they are often stereotyped as lacking these professional skills.

“Engineers are often stereotyped incorrectly as lacking in some of the softer skills that someone in arts might have,” she said. “[However,] soft skills or professional skills are just as important and when it gets down to it, employers are going to first and foremost look at professional skills such as working with teams and interpersonal skills.”

According to Moravek, leadership is seen as a professional skill that sets ILR students apart.

“[Leadership] is a highly sought-after skill regardless of career field,” she said. “An ILR student working in financial services might be working next to someone who is also crunching numbers but can’t assess a company’s culture, navigate, develop and influence relationships like the ILR candidate.”

However, Downey said students should not solely base their career decisions on salary statistics.

“It is short-sighted to look at this data and base a career choice on top of that,” she said. “We have [many] alumni who graduated in more difficult economic times but even then if you look at the alumni who graduated within the past 10 years, then they chose to do what they wanted to do and didn’t necessarily go after the highest salary and they are doing great.”