- Graduates who earned bachelor's degrees in 2018 received an average starting salary of about $51,000, according to data on some 82,900 graduates from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).
- That was only marginally higher — by less than 1% — than that of 2017 graduates, who earned $50,500 as their average starting salary.
- Computer science and engineering bachelor's graduates in 2018 had the highest average starting salaries, at $71,400 and $66,600, respectively. Social science graduates had the lowest of those tracked, at $46,800.
NACE's research shows there has been little growth in average starting salaries since 2015, when graduates saw a 4.3% boost in their first job's pay compared to that of graduates from the year prior. Annual growth in starting salaries has since stalled, remaining at under 1%.
"It's been surprising because the economy has been very good," said Mimi Collins, director of content strategy at NACE. "We're not seeing that translate into (higher) salaries."
Some bachelor's fields have even seen declines in pay. For example, the average starting salary for computer science graduates was down 1.7% year-over-year in 2018 after having seen several years of growth. Graduates in the health sciences saw a year-over-year dip of 3.3%.
Other sectors remained mostly flat. Business graduates' salaries fell 0.8%, while social sciences graduates saw an increase of 0.2%. Meanwhile, mathematics and statistics majors saw the biggest gains, with their starting salaries rising 1.8%.
Landing a well-paying job after graduation can be key to a student's long-term success. Nearly half (43%) of undergraduates are underemployed in their first job out of college, and of those, two-thirds were still underemployed five years later, according to a report from labor analytics firm Burning Glass Technologies.
"Young people no longer buy that tired old college line that, 'We prepare you for your fifth job, not your first job,'" Ryan Craig, co-founder of higher ed investment firm University Ventures, told Education Dive earlier this year. "They know that if you don't get a good first job, you're not likely to get a good fifth job."
Despite sluggish growth in starting salaries, NACE's data shows bachelor's degrees still pay off for students. Graduates with bachelor's degrees account for more than half of "good jobs," or those that pay at least $35,000 for younger workers, in the U.S., according to a recent report from Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce.
Moreover, roughly eight years after graduating with a bachelor's degree, the average student will have earned enough to make up for the cost of the degree and the time out of the workforce, according to the Urban Institute. They will also go on to earn hundreds of thousands of dollars more over their lifetime than those with an associate degree or less.
Communicating these benefits to students is key for colleges, especially as the American public grows more skeptical of the value of higher education. Colleges are beginning to respond by baking more in-demand skills into the curriculum, beefing up their career services offices and adding more experiential learning opportunities.