Research in Higher Education

, Volume 29, Issue 1, pp 41-59

First online:

College influences on graduates' income levels

  • John C. SmartAffiliated withCollege of Education (M/C 147), University of Illinois at Chicago

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The current income levels of college graduates are examined in the context of a causal model that incorporates measures commonly included in previous investigations by educational researchers, economists, and sociologists. The results show that the income levels of graduates are a function of a complex series of events that encompass student attributes at the time of college entry, the kinds of colleges and universities attended, performance and experiences in those institutions, the nature of the organizations in which they are employed, and the characteristics of their jobs. While the findings clearly demonstrate that where one goes to college and one's experiences in college have strong influences on graduates' current income levels, the relative influence of these measures is different for graduates employed in private firms and public agencies. The findings also demonstrate that the kinds of colleges and universities attended and students' experiences in those institutions are important intervening variables though which the indirect influences of sex and race are manifested. The research and policy implications of these findings are discussed.