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The Class of 2014 Is Doing Pretty Well

There’s little uniform, national-level data on how U.S. college graduates fare immediately after they finish school. That means it’s difficult to gauge students’ success by field of study across different colleges and universities, particularly within the first year after graduation.

To address the lack of data, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), a nonprofit professional association, commissioned a national survey on the outcomes of new college graduates. The data, which revealed some potentially surprising insights, was released Friday.

The association says this is the first survey of its kind, so it lacks historical context, but it does provide a snapshot of how today’s graduates are performing. The NACE found that about 80 percent of the class of 2014 that graduated with a bachelor’s degree had a “positive outcome” as of Dec. 30, 2014. (A positive outcome means working at a job, continuing one’s education or enlisting in public service.)

Graduates with only an associate degree had a slightly higher chance of a positive outcome at 85 percent, but they made less money. The average full-time salary for a graduate with a bachelor’s degree was $48,190, or about 48 percent more than the average for graduates with an associate degree ($32,525).

Perhaps the survey’s most noteworthy finding focused on the success rates of graduates from 31 academic disciplines. Although the distribution of starting salaries may not be surprising (the top three disciplines are engineering, computer science and engineering technology, and the lowest three are theology, recreation and psychology), the distribution of positive outcomes in general may be counterintuitive.

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ACADEMIC DISCIPLINE PERCENTAGE OF GRADUATES WITH POSITIVE OUTCOME MEAN STARTING SALARY
Engineering 86% $65k
Computer Science 88 62
Engineering Technology 93 57
Physical Sciences 83 57
Mathematics 86 53
Business 85 50
Total 80 48
Health Professions 85 48
Security 86 45
Social Science 79 42
General Studies 79 42
Architecture 79 41
Multidisciplinary Studies 82 40
Agriculture 84 38
History 78 38
Transportation 90 36
Visual & Performing Arts 84 36
Philosophy 79 36
Communications 80 36
Natural Resources 78 35
Education 85 34
Area Studies 78 34
Language 80 34
Consumer Science 82 34
English 78 34
Public Administration 79 33
Biology 74 33
Psychology 78 33
Recreation 83 33
Theology 88 29
Communications Technology 94
Legal Studies 93

Graduates with majors in communications technology were the most likely to have a positive outcome, while those in biology fared worst. Graduates with majors in visual and performing arts were more likely than the average graduate to have a positive outcome, trailing only slightly behind those in the business and education disciplines.

Again, it’s hard to put this information in context. How is the class of 2014 doing relative to its predecessors? Are the relative outcomes by academic discipline part of a broader trend, or a random anomaly? These are questions we can’t necessarily answer now, but the NACE plans to run this survey annually. As the authors wrote, the report “establishes a baseline that will allow for comparisons with future classes in a more definitive fashion.”

Hayley Munguia is a former social media editor and a data reporter for FiveThirtyEight.

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