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 data

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.

Growing programs

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.

Growing programs

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.

Contact reporter Christopher Smith Gonzalez at 409-683-5314 or chris.gonzalez@galvnews.com.

(7) comments

Jose' Boix

Great article showing the importance of College of the Mainland to our area and to our economy.
The PTEC program is considered to be the best around, and their staff is always looking to make it better and more suited to what industry needs; that is real and effective progress!
Kudos to Department Industrial Technology Bill Raley - Dean, Jerry Duncan Department Chair and the rest of the staff; plus the COM BOT and Administration.

Ellen Morrison

While this is good news and serves as a valid data point, it would be even better if we also could see median wage at 5- and 10-year periods. There might be a curve where both meet and even out, or one where the 4-year goes higher.

Incomplete or partial data shows an incomplete or partial picture.

Gary Miller

Real proof numbers don't lie but liers use numbers.

Degrees without value drag the four year averages down.
Averaging rooky incomes from good four year degrees with rooky incomes from bad four year degrees produces low averages.
Averageing medium incomes after 5 or 10 years would eliminate some of the differences. Incomes from high value four year degrees are many times higher than the best 2 year degree and keep increasing long after the best two year degree levels out.
A good 2 year degree may give a fast start without staying power. Low value 2 or 4 year degrees provide neither. It isn't 2 year vs 4 year. It's the value to employers it provides.
High school dropouts are earning 6 figure incomes in new North Dakota/Wyoming or Oklahoma/Kansas/Colorado oil fields.

Lars Faltskog

I tend to agree with ! IHOG!.. on this one. It is the type of degree, not the years of study (not 2, 4) that makes the argument of "value" relevant.

A 4 year degree in architecture or engineering would be well worth the $ and time. A 4 year degree in English Literature or Norwegian Studies....not so much.

Then again, there's nothing like having the sense of accomplishment in getting a degree and having the college experience. Those who perhaps "could have" done it might regret later not doing it. So, if you CAN...go for the 4 year in whatever trade.

Kevin Lang

People should consider dual majors. Also, many, if not most, college students accept the fact that what you may wind up getting paid for might not be what you majored, or even minored in. What a lot of people fail to consider is that the skills you have are only part of the employment equation. It's at least as important to be able to tell the employer what else you can bring to the company. I'm sure most of us can point to many people we work with who's education is not aligned with their job functions.

For JuCos, a lot of students are there for vocational education. For them, it makes sense to focus on what the job market is looking for now, because your degree will probably come while the skill is still hot. However, for 4-year students, you're being a bit more speculative. On the other hand, with 4 years, you can work on honing multiple skills, and developing the whole person. With 2 years, there's only so much you can give good focus to.

As IHOG indicates, it's really hard, if not disingenuous to make generalizations about the relative value of 2-year and 4-year degrees, or even technical versus non-technical degrees. Plus, when you look only at wages, you're neglecting all of the non-monetary rewards of any profession. For example, very few people become teachers because of the financial rewards. However, how many of us would be where we are today without a few good teachers along the way.

George Croix

Once you get to the real world, you will find out fairly quickly that the degree is less important than the skill of the guy holding it to transfer that knowledge into positive results.
One of the things rarely mentioned is your ability to work with people. All kinds of people. You will play heck getting much done no matter how wise and learned you are if your field of expertise requires cooperative effort to achieve an end, and you are such a type that nobody want's to work with you.
A bit of time focusing on that needs to be done before graduation, not after you get more commenst behind the back than to the face.

Lars Faltskog

I'll ad to geocrox's opinion in that folks nowadays also need the "work experience" that goes with the degree. Whether it's 3 summers working at Moody Hotel or as a server at a restaurant, or a front desk clerk somewhere....

A reputation follows each individual. If you have been reliable, punctual, and a problem solver in your previous and formative part-time work as opposed to a whiny, often-late, blame-gamer - then you've got a "leg up" on the job market. Those references you give to employers of your current boss/co-workers can make or break a hiring decision.

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