UM’s Class of 2017 finds better wages than its predecessors

University of Montana graduates celebrate Saturday as part of the class of 2017. They face higher wages than any class since 1969, according to a national report. (Photo courtesy of Todd Goodrich)

By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

If timing is key, then the University of Montana graduates who tossed their tassels on Saturday are entering the U.S. labor market at the perfect time.

In fact, a national study released last week by the Hay Group found that the average starting pay for a new college graduate is as high as it has been in decades.

That may spell good news for all graduates, including those leaving UM.

“Our graduates graduate into a national market,” said Patrick Barkey, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at UM. “National wages are relevant.”

According to the Hay report, the average starting pay for a 2017 graduate is up 3 percent over last year to roughly $49,700. Compared to a decade ago and adjusted for inflation, that’s 14 percent more the Class of 2007 expected to earn right out of college.

But prospects for a UM graduate may depend on where he or she plans to work. According to a recent BBER survey, those with a college degree in Missoula earn just 63 percent of the nation’s median earnings, placing Missoula 910th out of 917 metro areas.

James Grunke, president and CEO of the Missoula Economic Partnership, said the disparity may have less to do with local wages and more to do with translating one’s college skills to the private sector.

“When people tell me there’s no high-paying jobs here, I tell them they’re wrong,” Grunke said on Monday. “There are hundreds of high-paying jobs unfilled in Missoula as we speak. We have the demand and we have the supply, but somehow they’re not lining up properly.”

(Photo courtesy of Todd Goordrich)

To address that issue, MEP and other community partners have contracted with Tomas P. Miller & Associates to launch a workforce study focused on Missoula. The same company conducted a similar study in Billings two years ago to help that city identify its employment issues.

Grunke said the Missoula study will better identify the needs of the local employment market, including wages, unfilled jobs and the skill set brought by the local workforce.

“If people tell me there are wage gaps or a workforce shortage today, we don’t know what that means,” Grunke said. “We want to have a good analysis of the state of the workforce so we can take prescriptive actions.”

Grunke expects the study to be presented by September. It will likely include ways to translate skills gained in college to the private sector.

“We didn’t want a report to go on a shelf,” Grunke said. “We want specific action steps.”

According to the National Association of College Employers, the lowest adjusted salary occurred in 1995, when the average new graduate earned just $29,276 – or $45,202 when adjusted for inflation.

Graduates who earned their diploma in 1969 made an adjusted average salary of $59,169, one of the highest starting figures on record.

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at info@missoulacurrent.com