First Year Earnings of Recent College Graduates in Colorado Vary Widely, Depending Upon Their School and Their Degree, New Report Finds

Washington, D.C. – There is wide variation in the income of recent graduates of Colorado’s colleges and universities, with those receiving an Associate of Applied Sciences degree typically earning more than those with a Bachelor’s degree during their first year in the workforce, according to an analysis of newly released data.

The analysis, conducted by Mark Schneider, a vice president at the American Institutes for Research (AIR) and former commissioner of the federal National Center for Education Statistics, examines the earning power of graduates of all of the state’s public two-year and four-year institutions, as well as three private colleges.

The report, Higher Education Pays: The Initial Earnings of Graduates from Colorado’s Colleges and Universities Working in Colorado, is the result of a partnership between the Colorado’s Department of Higher Education and College Measures, a joint venture of AIR and the Matrix Knowledge Group. The study was partially funded by the Lumina Foundation.

Detailed information comparing Colorado colleges and universities, and their degree programs is available free on the website of College Measures.

“College Measures provides a valid and reliable measure of the benefits of a college degree and is an essential piece of our work for generating the best outcomes for students,” said Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Lt. Gov. Joseph Garcia in a joint letter included in the report.

The report was released in Denver at a news conference with Lt. Gov. Garcia and Schneider.

The results indicate that the types of degrees students earn, and the institutions they attend, influence the salaries they receive. Those who focus on computer sciences, nursing or business management are likely to have higher incomes than their peers who majored in English, history, or fine arts.

The institution attended matters as well. The median first-year income for a Business Administration major from the University of Colorado Denver is $43,500, compared with $59,600 for graduates with the same degree from the University of Denver. In general, graduates of the Colorado School of Mines and Regis University earned the highest median salaries. Many of their students are already in the labor market and earning degrees to advance their careers.

The amount of debt students incur to earn a degree, and their likely earnings are important considerations. Graduates of the University of Colorado Boulder borrow the least amount compared to their first-year earnings, 30 percent, followed by graduates of the Colorado School of Mines at 31 percent. Graduates of Adams State University have the highest debt-to-earnings ratio, at 52 percent, followed by Colorado Mesa University and the University of Northern Colorado graduates, with 47 percent.

“Our primary goal is to provide students and their families with information that helps them make informed decisions in deciding about a college, about a major, and about how much debt is reasonable,” said AIR’s Schneider. In addition to Colorado, he has been working with several states to increase information available about their colleges and universities, including Arkansas, Florida, Tennessee and Virginia.

Other findings in the report include:

  • The career-oriented Associate of Applied Sciences (AAS) programs in Colorado are helping many students successfully enter the labor market by equipping them with skills that are in demand. On average, one year after graduation, students with AAS degrees are earning almost $7,000 more than graduates of bachelor’s degree programs across the state.
  • Graduates with the AAS degree earn, on average, about $15,000 more than students who completed the Associate of Arts degree or Associate of Sciences degree but who are now in the labor force.
  • There is wide variation in the earnings of graduates of the AAS degree, with almost $15,000 separating the median earnings of graduates from Red Rocks Community College ($53,100) from median earnings of graduates from Aims Community College. ($38,700).
  • The median first-year earnings of bachelor’s degree recipients statewide is around $39,000. However, there is a wide range in earnings according to field of study: First-year earnings range from less than $30,000 (for Fine and Studio Arts graduates) to more than $50,000 (Registered Nursing graduates).
  • For bachelor’s degrees, in general, graduates in health and business earn more than graduates with liberal arts degrees. A closer look tells a more complex story, however: Consider business administration, management, and operations. A $20,000 difference is found in the first-year earnings of persons who graduated in these fields from the University of Denver (more than $59,600) and the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs ($39,000).

About AIR
Established in 1946, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., the American Institutes for Research (AIR) is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts behavioral and social science research and delivers technical assistance both domestically and internationally in the areas of health, education, and workforce productivity. For more information, visit


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