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Which Chicago College Grads Earn The Most By Age 34?

By Sam Cholke | January 20, 2017 6:15am
 A new study showed IIT is the best university in the city at improving the potential earnings for students.
A new study showed IIT is the best university in the city at improving the potential earnings for students.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

DOUGLAS — The Illinois Institute of Technology might be the best of the major private universities in Chicago if judged by ability to improve a student’s lot in life.

New data from the Equality of Opportunity Project compiled by the New York Times shows IIT has the largest share of students that jump in income bracket compared to their parents, particularly among the poorest students.

It might be of little surprise that Northwestern University and the University of Chicago attract by far the most students with wealthy parents. But by a very rough measures of success, Illinois Tech is doing a better job of helping its students secure a high income after graduation.

Northwestern students come into the university from the wealthiest backgrounds, with an average family income of $171,200, and 66 percent of its students’ families ranking in the top fifth of earners.

The data covering 2000-11 shows there was only an 11 percent chance a Northwestern student would move up two or more income quintiles, compared to a 25 percent chance at Illinois Tech. But where can Northwestern students go when they start at the top?

Even so, in pure salary terms, Northwestern students lead both Chicago and Illinois colleges and universities when it comes to salaries after graduating. By age 34, the median salary of Northwestern students, $72,600, is tops. Other salaries at that age include:

Ilinois Tech $72,300

U. of C. $61,700

University of Illinois $59,700

Loyola University $53,500

DePaul University $51,300

North Park University $40,200

Northern Illinois University $48,000

Northeastern Illinois University $34,900

Illinois Institute of Art $33,200

Chicago State University $31,900

Robert Morris University $30,400

Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Chicago $30,200

Columbia College $28,500

Moody Bible Institute $27,400

School of the Art Institute $25,500

Graduates of the City Colleges of Chicago ranked near the bottom in the state for earnings at $25,300 per year at age 34. But the worst in the state was Pivot Point Academy in Bloomingdale, a beauty school whose graduates earned on average $14,500 per year by age 34, the equivalent of making $6.97 working full time, well below Illinois' $8.25 minimum wage.


The University of Chicago and Northwestern University remain the two schools that accept the most students from wealthy families. [Shutterstock/Henryk Sadura]

Are poor students helped?

One important question in higher education is whether going to college is still a road to the top for the poorest students.

There does appear to be a greater benefit for the poorest students to attend an elite institution. At Northwestern, students coming from families in the bottom fifth of earners had a 55 percent chance of making it to the top fifth of earners themselves, similar to a 45 percent chance at U. of C. But both performed worse for the poorest students by that measure than Illinois Tech, where students from the poorest families had a 61 percent chance of moving up to the top fifth of earners.

More of Illinois Tech’s students come from the poorest families compared to Northwestern or U. of C. More than 7 percent of Illinois Tech's students’ parents are in the bottom fifth of earners compared with 3.7 percent at Northwestern and 5.5 percent at U. of C.

At IIT, students are coming in with a lower average family income as well, $99,100 per year. But by age 34 they are earning nearly the same as their peers coming out of Northwestern.

U. of C., the closest thing to an Ivy League school in Chicago, is accepting fewer students whose families are in the top fifth of earners than Northwestern, which may explain why it is doing a better job at helping students jump up in earnings compared to their parents. U. of C. students have a 14 percent chance of moving up two or more income quintiles compared to their parents, but their median earnings are behind peers at Northwestern and IIT at age 34.

Sorting out how University of Illinois at Chicago students are doing compared to peers at private colleges is difficult because the data lumps the students in with the campus in Downstate Urbana-Champaign.


Northwestern University grads had the highest average income at age 34, at $72,600, of any university in the state. [Wikimedia Commons/Ivylaw]

U. of I. students make a median salary of $59,700 by age 34, putting them on par with Loyola University. And the chances a U. of I. student will jump from the lowest fifth of earners to the top is 42 percent, slightly worse than DePaul University’s 43 percent chance.

The data makes clear that parents might be right to wring their hands about a child going to art school.

The School of the Art Institute of Chicago is accepting more students from wealthy families than Illinois Tech, but students are leaving the school earning on average $25,000 per year at age 34, less than half of what their peers at Illinois Tech are earning.

Not many people enter art school dreaming of riches, so it’s not surprising that there is only a 27 percent chance that a student coming from a family in the bottom fifth of earners will move to the top. Still, that’s better than a one-in-four shot and dramatically better than Columbia College, where the same odds were a little more than a 9 percent.

Columbia College students were also the least likely to be married.

The study looked at students born between 1980 and 1982 and asked how many were married. Among the nine major universities in the city, North Park University was at the top, with 62 percent; Ilinois Tech was close behind with 60 percent. Columbia was at the bottom, with 35 percent married.

The full data set, which includes many smaller colleges in the city like the Moody Bible Institute and suburban schools like Lake Forest College, is available online.

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