College Grads Earn More; Accountants’ Pay Continues to Climb

The cost of a college education pays off for most people, according to data from the Census Bureau’s 2005 Current Population Survey released last week. The average gap in earnings for all working adults with a bachelor’s degree and those with high school diplomas is about $23,000 a year, the Associated Press reports. College grads earned an average of $51,554 a year in 2004, the most recent figures available, compared with $28,645 for high school graduates and $19,169 for high school dropouts.

Starting salaries for college grads with accounting degrees grew 4.6 percent, to $44,928 in 2006, according to the Salary Survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), CNNMoney says, and according to Robert Half International’s Guide to Accounting and Finance Salaries, accounting salaries are expected to climb 7.6 percent in 2007.

“Business growth and compliance-related issues are fueling demand for individuals with expertise in areas such as financial analysis and general accounting,” said Max Messmer, chairman and CEO of Robert Half International. "Because of the limited supply of skilled accounting and finance professionals, employers today are offering premium compensation to attract and retain top talent."

Experienced hires at mid-sized firms ($25 million to $250 million in sales) are projected to earn between $82,000 and $120,000 in 2007, the Guide to Finance and Accounting Salaries says. Internal audit managers in large companies will see base compensation range from $77,500 to $101,500, up 5.6 percent from 2006.

Entry level accountants at small accounting firms (up to $25 million in sales) can expect starting salaries in the range of $38,000 to $44,000 a year. Entry level cost accountants at small companies will see starting salaries increase 5.8 percent in 2007, the Half report says, to between $33,250 and $39,250. Salaries for bookkeepers will increase 6.7 percent and range from $30,250 to $37,000 annually.

The salaries in the Half report are national averages. The Salary Guide includes regional analysis of hiring trends and compensation levels, which can vary significantly.

Other lucrative degrees for college graduates include information sciences and systems, where starting salaries were up 7.5 percent in 2006, to $47,182, according to the NACE survey, CNNMoney.com says. Economics and finance grads earned slightly less than accountants, $44,588, but showed an increase of 6.2 percent over 2005. Mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, psychology, computer science and political science had increases in 2006 that ranged from 3.3 percent for mechanical engineering, to .3 percent for political science. These wages increases did not outpace inflation.

The previous Census Bureau report on Educational Attainment in the United States, released in 2000, showed a slightly larger gap in income between college graduates and workers with a high school diploma, the AP says. Twenty-eight percent of the population had bachelor’s degrees in 2005, compared to 20 percent in 2000 and 11 percent in 1970.

Salaries for all college graduates entering the job market decreased in 2005, from 2000, when adjusted for inflation, according to Census Bureau data analyzed by the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal research group, according to the New York Times. Even with economic growth, the Institute found that entry-level wages for young males fell by 7.3 percent, to $19.72 an hour, while wages for young women fell by 3.5 percent, to $17.08. In addition, the percentage of college graduates receiving health and pension benefits has dropped.

“In a weak labor market, younger workers do the worst,” said Lawrence Mishel, the Institute’s president. “Young workers are on the cutting edge of experiencing all the changes in the economy.” The Institute identified the end of the technology boom and outsourcing as factors that caused stagnant wages for all college graduates from 2000 to 2005, the Times reports.

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