By Troy Miller
Senior Researcher and Policy Analyst, Florida College Access Network

Over a recent five-year period, the number of Florida students getting bachelor’s degrees in health jumped up by 50.8%. It is no wonder why. On average, Florida graduates with a 4-year health degree stand to earn an average annual salary of $55,879. That’s more than double the median pay of a high school grad working in the medical field, $25,291. Currently, the health field offers the highest wage premium over those working in the same field with only a high school diploma (123.4%).

While the growth in health degrees has accelerated faster than any other field of study, business and communications majors still remain the most common degree awarded by four-year Florida universities, followed by social and behavioral sciences and STEM.

These findings come from new state-level data provided in a report by the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association which shows each successive level of postsecondary education Floridians complete results in higher earnings, but that the difference of these earnings across disciplines can be substantial. The data analyzed runs from the 2004-05 to the 2009-10 academic year.

The report also includes IPEDS completion data by educational level and academic discipline at the state level, which is intended to allow state education leaders to examine the relationship between the economic payoff and degree production of different education levels and areas of study. From a national perspective, the authors of the report observed a relationship between fields with higher earnings and increased production of degrees. The same trend was apparent for Florida, as completions for health fields as well as wages were either at the top or near it compared to bachelor’s degree earners in other fields (see tables below).

This trend, SHEEO says, suggests that both student choice and institutional degree production are being influenced by higher wage premiums.  There is one exception, however, which is STEM.  Although nationally, STEM is the second highest paying discipline at the baccalaureate level, degree production was only up 11.3% over the five year span from 04-05 to 09-10, below the national average.  In Florida however, STEM degree production continued to expand at an impressive 30.2%.  4-year STEM graduates in Florida earn $55,879 annually on average and $62,606 nationally.

The report adds some needed state-level depth to the broader national conversation around the relationship between education and earnings, but if you want to get even more detailed, make sure you’re following the work of the Florida Board of Governors’ Commission on Florida Higher Education Access and Degree Attainment and Higher Education Coordinating Council.  Both groups have engaged with the painstaking process of figuring out how to line up our state’s labor market projections and degree production levels at the program level and across postsecondary sectors.

See below for select Florida earnings and degree production data and go here to review the entire SHEEO report.

~Follow Troy Miller on Twitter @TroyMillerFCAN

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