Between record-high unemployment and student loan debt, recent college graduates have been taking their lumps for years. However, there might be a bright spot on the horizon for the upcoming May graduates. Last year, 2012 graduates saw increases in initial salaries compared to the class of 2011. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the overall starting salary in 2012 increased by 3.4 percent over the prior year, with an average starting salary of $44,455.
Of course, not all majors fared the same in terms of starting salary increases. The largest gaining degree averaged more than 4 percent growth. Here's a closer look at five of them:
Education. Shaky state budgets have made teaching less attractive over the last two years. However, average starting salaries skyrocketed for 2012 graduates. The average starting salary for teachers was $40,668 across all disciplines, with the average salary increasing by 5.4 percent. Special education teachers were the highest paid, averaging a starting salary of $45,600.
Business. You'd hope those studying the art of making money would show up somewhere on the top of the salary scale. In 2012, a business degree came in second place in terms of largest gains in starting salary. Majors saw a 4.2 percent increase over 2011 and an average starting salary of $53,900. Those in finance tend to earn more than other related fields; starting offers average $57,300.
Communications. At 4.1 percent, communications majors saw the third highest increase for 2012 graduates. Starting salary averaged $43,717, with advertising majors taking the top-paid position in the field at $47,200. Unfortunately, communications related fields also pulled in some of the lowest salaries, with the bottom of the pack earning $33,536.
Engineering. Oddly, engineering was the only STEM degree to make the list of fastest growing salaries by degree. At 3.9 percent, engineers are tied with health sciences for starting salary growth. Last year's graduates saw an average starting salary of $59,591. Aerospace engineers snagged the seat, with a starting salary for career beginners of $64,000.
Health Sciences. It's a good idea to pay those who keep you alive a substantial salary. After all, no one wants a strike in the middle of surgery. Health sciences rounds out the list of degrees, with the largest increases in starting salary with a 3.9 percent increase. Graduates from 2012 averaged a beginning salary of $49,196. The bachelor's degree on top of the list for highest wages was nursing, earning an average of $52,200. Of course, these numbers depict the starting salary for graduates who land a job in their career field. Those settling in an unrelated career path are not likely to earn the same wages. Averages can also be deceiving, since half of respondents actually earn less than the average.
Still, the fact that new graduates are seeing wage increases over prior years is a good sign the labor market is improving. We will have to wait to see what 2013 brings; if 2012 is any indication, 2013 graduates have reason to be optimistic.
JP is a writer for the money blog 20's Finances. He is an MBA and the financial officer for a nonprofit organization.