High Retention: Majority of Arizona Public University Grads Work in State

George Hammond, EBRC Director and Research Professor

Arizona’s public university graduates contribute significantly to the state economy. Indeed, the 271,197 graduates during the past 26 years that worked in the state in 2015 earned $15.7 billion in wages and are estimated to have paid $1.1 billion in state and local taxes.

We know this through a recent report released by the Arizona Board of Regents, which oversees our public universities, titled “2016 Annual Report on Wages Earned by Arizona University System Graduates.” The report details Arizona work participation rates and median wages for state public university graduates, with breakouts by degree and major.

Arizona’s public universities are part of a national infrastructure that generates human capital for the nation and the world. Each institution (Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University, and the University of Arizona) graduates thousands of individuals each year who go on to contribute in myriad ways to social and economic development in our state, in the U.S., and globally.

Large numbers of students from Arizona’s public universities remain in the state to work after graduation. In fact, the study estimates that nearly 80% of recent resident graduates with an undergraduate degree remained in Arizona to work in 2015. For recent resident graduate students, the rate was over 70%.

Retention rates are lower for Arizona’s non-resident graduates, who tend to have family and other ties that take them out of the state for work. In addition, as graduates gain experience, they are less likely to remain in Arizona. These characteristics are similar for public graduates of most, perhaps all, states.

As you might expect, median wages for recent graduates are much higher for those earning graduate degrees. For instance, in 2015, students graduating from the University of Arizona with a graduate degree had a median wage of $54,974. Students earning undergraduate degrees earned $33,901, a difference of $21,064.

Median wages vary significantly by major as well. Exhibit 1 shows median wages for graduates with undergraduate degrees during the past 26 years by major. Engineering graduates earned the most at $86,443, while area, ethnic, cultural, and gender studies graduates earned the least at $40,281. Note that all graduates earned far more than the average individual with only a high school degree.

Exhibit 1: Median Wages of Undergraduates Working in the State in 2015, Arizona Public University Graduates

These data arise from a match of public higher education graduates during 1990-2015 to employer records maintained by the unemployment insurance program of the Arizona Department of Economic Security for 2015. Employer records do not include the self employed or those who work outside the state.