Most Oklahoma college graduates stay in state to work immediately following graduation but many leave the state after five years, especially those graduates in high-tech fields such as engineering and computer science, according to a report released recently by the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education.
In their “Employment Outcomes Report,” the State Regents showed that approximately four out of five graduates who earned a bachelor’s degree from Oklahoma’s public colleges and universities were employed in Oklahoma one year later. Five years later, however, approximately three out of five remained in the state.
The study also reports that at the bachelor’s degree level, Oklahomans who majored in transportation, architecture, foreign languages, communications technology, physical sciences, computer science and engineering were among those least likely to remain in the state. Graduates who majored in education, public affairs, liberal/general studies, personal services and health professions were most likely to stay.
“While most graduates are initially choosing to stay in Oklahoma to work, many eventually head elsewhere in search of better opportunities in their respective fields,” Chancellor Hans Brisch said. “If we expect our state to move forward and become a major economic player in the near future, we must do a better job of attracting the types of industry that will help keep more of these graduates here by providing more competitive salaries.”
Brisch mentioned that the State Regents have made some progress in reaching their Brain Gain 2010 goal of increasing the number of college graduates in the state to at least the national average, but there is still plenty of work ahead.
“From 1990 to 2000, the percentage of Oklahomans possessing at least a bachelor’s degree has increased by 2.5 percentage points, from 17.8 to 20.3 percent. But, the U.S. increased 4.1 percentage points during that same time, from 20.3 to 24.4 percent, widening the gap between Oklahoma and the rest of the nation.
So, we can’t pat ourselves on the back just yet. We must roll up our sleeves and work a lot harder if we are to reach our goal,” Brisch said.
Not surprisingly, the report also revealed that the higher a degree an individual earns, the more money he or she will make in salary. Oklahoman residents who received a bachelor’s degree five years ago were earning an average of $34,209, a 19 percent difference from the $28,782 associate degree recipients earned. In addition, Oklahoman residents who earned a master’s degree five years ago were earning at least 21 percent more than those with bachelor’s degrees – approximately $41,000 compared with $34,000. Oklahoma residents who earned doctoral or professional degrees in 1995-96 earned approximately $57,000 and $66,000, respectively, after five years.
The study also showed that state system graduates who earned bachelor’s degrees in 1993-94 in the fields of philosophy, computer science, engineering, construction trades and visual and performing arts had the highest average salaries after five years. For those who graduated in 1995-96, the field of specialized marketing and distribution led the way with an average salary of $47,828, followed by computer science ($45,526), engineering ($42,848), health professions ($39,896) and transportation ($37,873).
The State Regents have committed themselves to increasing the number of Oklahoma college graduates by 2010 through programs and initiatives implemented within the last decade, including the Educational Planning and Assessment System (EPAS); Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP); and the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program (OHLAP). All of the above programs are designed to help middle and high school students better prepare for the rigors of college work through mentoring or tutoring, assessments and a stronger core curriculum.
“The results of this latest report serve as a challenge for all of us in higher education, especially during these uncertain economic times, to do whatever we can to help retain our college graduates, especially those in the fields of engineering and computer science, and also help develop the high-paying, high-demand jobs that graduates are seeking,” State Regents Chairman Carl Renfro said. “Raising the state’s per capita income will no doubt be a huge factor in the equation, but it will take more cooperation and collaboration among lawmakers, higher education, K-12 and the business community to make that happen.”
The State Regents worked with the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission and the Oklahoma Tax Commission to gather data for the report.
Anyone wishing to obtain a copy of the “Employment Outcomes Report” may do so by visiting the State Regents’ Web site at www.okhighered.org and clicking “Studies and Reports.”