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KNOXVILLE -– People who attend Tennessee’s public community colleges are more likely to work in-state after graduation than people who attend the state’s other public colleges or universities.

Graduates of all University of Tennessee campuses earn, on average, higher wages than graduates from the state’s other public colleges and universities.

Those are among the findings in the second installment of a multi-part project called “School-to-Work: Do Tennessee’s Higher Education Graduates Work in Tennessee?” released today. UT Knoxville’s Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER) is leading the project under an agreement with the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) and with the cooperation of the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

The first part of this project — released in April — reported that many graduates of Tennessee’s public higher education institutions remain in Tennessee to work after getting their diplomas. It also reported that these educated workers earn more than other Tennessee workers, and their salaries escalate with their education levels. Seven years after graduation, Tennessee higher education graduates earn an average wage of $50,418.

This second report expands upon these findings by making comparisons among the state’s public institutions of higher education. It focuses on three major affiliations -– the University of Tennessee system, Tennessee Board of Regents universities and Tennessee Board of Regents community colleges.

Working in Tennessee

As Part 1 of this project reported, more than 67 percent of people who graduate from a state public college or university stay in Tennessee to work upon graduation. By seven years post-graduation, though, only about 55.5 percent of the state’s graduates still are working in Tennessee -– an exodus constantly offset by a new crop of graduates.

This second report shows that people who graduate from Board of Regents community colleges are the most likely to remain in-state to work. One quarter, or three months, after graduation, 75 percent of the graduates from these institutions were working in Tennessee. By comparison, 68 percent of graduates from TBR universities and less than 59 percent of UT graduates were working in-state one quarter after earning their diplomas.

“TBR community college graduates have a greater tendency to join and remain in the Tennessee workforce than TBR university graduates, even when comparing only associate degree earners,” the report states. “Similar differences can be found between TBR universities and UT for bachelor’s degree earners. About 69 percent of TBR graduates are in the Tennessee workforce one quarter after graduation, compared to just 61 percent of UT graduates.”

The only deviation in this trend comes at the professional degree level.

“Graduates with professional degrees seem to behave more similarly from institution to institution. TBR university graduates and UT graduates both have workforce participation rates between 45 and 50 percent one quarter after graduation, and this rate declines similarly over time,” the report states.

Making money

Not only are there wage differences associated with institutions, but earnings grow more quickly for graduates of some institutions.

Although UT and TBR university bachelor’s degree graduates earn about the same amount immediately after graduation, UT graduates see slightly faster wage growth than the TBR graduates.

For instance, three quarters after graduation, UT system graduates are earning an average of $31,104 while TBR graduates are earning $31,815. But by 25 quarters after graduation, UT graduates are earning an average of $48,086 while TBR graduates are earning $45,164.

Among UT graduates with bachelor’s degrees, those from the Health Science Center had the highest average salary after three quarters at $43,815, followed by Knoxville at $30,904, Chattanooga at $30,849 and Martin at $29,898.

For those earning associate’s degrees, average wages are consistently higher for TBR university graduates than for TBR community college graduates. However, graduates of both kinds of institutions see their wage grow at about the same rate during their first seven years out of school. Some TBR universities offer associate’s degrees while none are offered by UT.

Wages start higher for master’s degree graduates, and even higher for doctoral degree graduates, but salaries for both grow slower. Wages earned by UT system and TBR university master’s degree and doctoral degree graduates are similar, the findings show.

“The most significant difference in wages can be found among professional degree earners, where initial wages differ, on average, by more than $15,000, with University of Tennessee graduates earning just over $50,000 on average and TBR university graduates earning just under $35,000 on average,” the report states. “This gap fluctuates over time, but after seven years in the workforce, the average difference has widened to just over $25,000. Much of the difference is explained by earnings of the graduates from the University of Tennessee Medical School.”

To download the report, go to


Bill Fox, CBER, (865) 974-6112,

David Wright, THEC, (615) 532-3862,

Elizabeth Davis, UT media relations, (865) 974-5179,