Report ranks salary earning potential of UC Berkeley lower this year

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The ranking of UC Berkeley’s salary earning potential as compared to other U.S. state universities dropped from second place in 2010-11 to fifth place in a 2011-12 PayScale report released this week.

The report lists median salary for UC Berkeley graduates with five years of experience or less as $51,400, and mid-career graduates with at least 10 years of experience as $102,000. Only graduates who have not pursued higher education after their bachelor’s degree are included in the study.

In contrast, the 2010-11 College Salary Report ranked the campus second in salary earning potential, listing campus graduates’ starting median salary as $53,100 and mid-career median salary as $109,000. The campus ranked first in the 2009-10 report.

This drop in rankings could come as a result of a shaky economy, according to campus associate professor of economics and public policy Jesse Rothstein.

“One might expect that the economic downturn, which has hurt California worse than the country as a whole, would have led to a decline in the relative earnings of California residents,” he said. “Since Berkeley grads are more likely than typical grads to live in California, this could account for the declines.”

All four colleges that ranked ahead of UC Berkeley in the PayScale report focus heavily in engineering and business, which may also explain the drop in rankings. Additionally, the study does not take into account that many UC Berkeley students are preparing for post-graduate education in law or medicine, said UC spokesperson Dianne Klein.

“You really have to look at what majors are… Berkeley is liberal arts, and that encompasses many things,” she said. “Unless you’re very focused, certainly you are going to have more salary potential (as an engineering major), at least right out of the gate.”

UC Berkeley is not the only UC that experienced a drop in rankings. UCLA’s median salary potential as reported by PayScale in its 2009-10 report was $51,600 for new graduates and $97,000 for mid-career graduates, giving the campus an eleventh place ranking for that year. The most recent report shows a drop in the rankings to nineteenth place, with the median salary of both new graduates and mid-career graduates decreasing to $49,200 and $91,100 respectively.

The San Diego, Santa Barbara, Irvine and Davis campuses also experienced a drop in rankings between the 2011-2012 and the 2009-10 report. UC Riverside, however, saw an steep increase in its rankings from 44th in 2009-10 to 29th in the most recent release, as its mid-career median salary jumped from $85,700 to $88,800.

Rothstein said budget cuts could not be blamed for the drop in UC rankings.

“The budget cuts at UC can’t have had much of an effect, since the people they are surveying would have graduated before the cuts took effect,” he said.

Decreased funding, however, could affect the way the UC is perceived. Budget cuts have forced the dissolution of some discussion sections, shortened library hours and increased class sizes, Klein said.

“It erodes public opinion and that’s not a good thing,” she said. “When you’re forced to make do with less, you become creative. You either do that or die… Certainly the stark reality of the budget has lit a fire under the whole system.”

However, employers are still coming to the UC Berkeley Career Center specifically to recruit students from the campus, according to Suzanne Helbig, assistant director for counseling and marketing at the center.

“Students… should feel heartened by the fact that employers continue to come to Cal and continue to seek out Cal students,” she said. “You’re getting a world class education. Employers know they’re going to get great employees.”