New study reveals which college graduates earn most in the workplace

Higher Education Authority research shows extent of earning gap across colleges

Study finds Trinity  students have the highest average earnings within a few years of graduation.   Photograph: Alan Betson

Study finds Trinity students have the highest average earnings within a few years of graduation. Photograph: Alan Betson

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Trinity College Dublin students have the highest average earnings within a few years of graduation, followed by Dublin City University and University College Dublin, according to a study by the Higher Education Authority.

Teacher education college graduates, such as those from St Angela’s College in Sligo, St Patrick’s in Dublin and Limerick’s Mary Immaculate, also record relatively high earnings in the early years of their careers.

By contrast, graduates from regional institutes of technology are more likely to be on lower salaries, with those from Letterkenny IT, IT Tralee and IT Sligo earning the least.

Overall, the study shows the extent of the earnings gap which opens up among graduates across colleges and widens over time.

For example, there was a gap of €257 in average weekly earnings between graduates from the highest earning college (TCD, €724) and the lowest (Letterkenny IT,€495) four years after graduation.

After eight years, the gap grew to just over €400 in weekly earnings between the highest ( UCD, €1,017) and the lowest (Letterkenny IT, €615).

The research did not include graduates from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland as the sample size was not big enough.

The research, An Analysis of Graduate Earnings across Higher Education Institutions, is based on anonymised student records combined with earnings data from Revenue and other sources. The study’s authors say the findings indicate that what graduates earn when they enter the workforce is not just influenced by where or what they study, or their sector of employment, but also by their Leaving Cert points and type of second-level school they attended.

Differences in graduate earnings are also likely due to regional earnings differences and “institutional prestige” factors.

For example, undergraduates from universities and teacher education colleges achieved higher Leaving Cert points. Some 94 per cent of St Patrick’s graduates and 87 per cent of Trinity graduates achieved more than 400 points compared to 3 per cent of IT Blanchardstown graduates.

Overall, more university graduates previously attended fee-paying schools compared to a disadvantaged or Deis school, while the reverse is true for institutes of technology. In UCD, 27 per cent of graduates previously attended a fee-paying school, while 7 per cent attended a Deis school. In Limerick IT, less than 0.5 per cent of graduates previously attended a fee-paying school, while 38 per cent attended a Deis school.

The proportion of male and female graduates also varies significantly across institutions. Almost all graduates from St Angela’s in Sligo, and 68 per cent of graduates from the National College of Art and Design, are female. This compares to 46 per cent and 45 per cent of female graduates respectively from Carlow IT and GMIT.

While the earnings gap is significant among graduates, it narrows considerably when data is adjusted to compare like-for-like graduates – such as students who studied the same subject and received the same grade.

Using this measure, the earnings gap between the highest and lowest earning college four years after graduation falls from €257 to €154.

On this like-for-like basis, predicted earnings for students from TCD, DCU and UCD falls substantially, but remain above average.

Conversely, predicted earnings for graduates from IT Tralee, Letterkenny IT and IT Sligo increase, while still below the overall average.

HEA chief executive Dr Alan Wall said the data shows the factors which influence students’ course choices and their subsequent early-stage earnings.

“This will help institutions and other stakeholders in providing students with appropriate career advice and relevant information on their course choices,” he said.

The Technological Higher Education Association, which represents institutes of technology, said graduates from its colleges performed well alongside other graduates when compared on a like-for-like basis. This was despite the lower socio-economic profiles of students in general and the fact that many students have attained lower overall Leaving Cert points.

“It is clear that the technological higher education sector is the driver of access to education for the most socially and economically challenged cohorts of students throughout Ireland and they should be recognised and financially supported in this,” it said.

Gearóid Hodgins, the association’s director of corporate affairs, said the report shows that areas such as the northwest would benefit greatly from inward investment to support high earning roles for graduates who wish to stay working and living in their home region.