When Samantha Neal first walked up to the College of the Mainland’s Glycol Separation Unit, she had no idea what the pipes, gauges and levers were for.
She had a bachelor of science degree in anthropology but, unable to find employment, Neal said she started looking for something else.
So about a year and a half ago, the 29-year-old Neal enrolled in College of the Mainland’s process technology program.
“After I made the mistake of studying my hobby, I decided to go back to school and get a degree in something useful,” Neal said.
Now, after five semesters and with a technical degree in hand, Neal said she has the entire practice unit at the college memorized. She can diagram it by hand.
And while the bachelor’s degree from a four-year university hasn’t been put to much use, Neal already has an internship lined up with LyondellBasell, thanks to her technical degree. She hopes to find a job as an operator after that.
COM leads the pack
According to a new study by College Measures, a higher education research organization, Neal is likely to be one of the most highly paid college graduates in the state when she gets a job.
The median first-year earnings for graduates with a technical degree from College of the Mainland were $73,509, according to the study. That’s the highest first-year earnings for any Texas college graduate, including graduates from the state’s flagship four-year institutions.
Technical degree graduates from Galveston College weren’t far behind. According to the study, Galveston College graduates’ median first-year earnings were $66,165 — the fourth highest in the state.
Both colleges came in well above the statewide median of $50,827.
Universities left in the dust
By contrast, the median first-year earnings of bachelor’s degree recipients statewide are around $39,000, according to the study.
But even when looking at the earnings of graduates with bachelor’s degrees, universities in the area do better than the state median.
The median first-year earnings for students with undergrad degrees from Texas A&M University in Galveston are $43,783, according to the study. The median earnings for graduates from the University of Houston-Clear Lake, meanwhile, are the highest for any bachelor’s degree graduates in the state. Graduates from the Clear Lake campus make about $48,086 in their first year, according to the study.
By comparison, graduates from Texas A&M University make about $42,662 their first year out of college, while the median first-year earnings of graduates from the University of Texas in Austin were $38,145, according to the study.
The study used data from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the Texas Workforce Commission and other national sources, such as the Office of Personnel Management, U.S. Postal Service and military service records from Department of Defense, to come up with the comparisons.
Mark Schneider, president of College Measures, told The Texas Tribune that the report was “just the first step on a long journey” that will continue to examine earnings further out beyond graduation.
In the first study, technical associates degrees stood out. Schneider said technical associate’s degrees were “gems,” with significant financial payoffs, according to the Texas Tribune.
The popularity of those degrees in both of Galveston County’s community colleges is evidenced by a growing number of students.
During the 2012-13 school year, Galveston College awarded 413 workforce and applied technology certificates and awards, said Joe Huff, a college spokesman. And the college is getting ready to open a new applied technology center, he said.
Bill Raley, dean of industrial and technical programs at College of the Mainland, said he has seen students with MBA degrees enroll in the college’s technical programs.
And with the economy rebounding, there is likely to be even more demand for those with technical training, Raley said.
Neal certainly hopes so.
While the pay is definitely high on the list of reasons why students enroll in the program at College of the Mainland, Neal said she enjoys the demanding work.
“I’m just so glad I chose this program, particularly at this school,” she said.