A person who graduated from Dartmouth last year was expected to make $51,600 in his or her first job. It makes sense. Dartmouth is an Ivy League school that graduates the best of the best students. Nevertheless, someone who graduated from the Colorado School of Mines should have expected an initial salary of $63,400. When Bloomberg reviewed the same PayScale report 24/7 Wall St. did, the news service pointed out that graduates from the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology had an average starting salary of $56,700.
One would expect that mining schools have little to recommend them as places to study in the hopes of getting high-paying work. But that is not true when the Plains states are filled with fracking and drilling sites. And it is not just these graduates who do well. Unemployment rates overall in the Plains region remain well below the national average. In July, the joblessness figure in North Dakota was 3%. In South Dakota, unemployment was 4.4% and in Montana 6.4%. Put another way, nearly everyone in these areas has a job, and demand for workers probably makes those very good jobs based on earnings.
All of the data, both from PayScale and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, points to a single conclusion. The best way to find work is to be in the right place at the right time, whether or not a college degree is critical to work.
The rise of the energy and agribusiness industries in the Plains states is not the only reason they offer good areas for workers. Almost no one has moved into these states for years. North Dakota’s population rose 4.7% between 2000 and 2010. In the previous decade the number was up only 0.5%. The state lost population three of the five previous decades. Figures for surrounding states are not much different. In the meantime, for Dartmouth graduates, the number of open positions on Wall St. has fallen.
It is not how someone starts college or where. It is how they finish and where.
Douglas A. McIntyre