By From the Lowell Sun
By Christopher Scott
LOWELL -- Dartmouth College, MIT, Stanford ... UMass Lowell?
UMass Lowell is in some pretty heady company these days when it comes to translating a bachelor's degree from a public university into a healthy salary.
A recently released survey by PayScale.com -- a Seattle-based online firm that collects compensation data -- placed UMass Lowell as the top-ranked public institution in New England and in the top 20 percent of public and private schools nationally.
UMass Lowell ranked 124th among 600 public and private institutions included in the survey, which set out to show the return on investment for graduates at a midcareer point.
According to PayScale.com, a UMass Lowell graduate with a bachelor's degree earns an average midcareer salary of $90,000 annually. The salary profile fits a UMass alum who is about 40 years old and has been out of school for about 20 years.
Other institutions with midcareer salaries in the same range include elite private schools Boston University, Baylor University and Purdue University.
"If you attend UMass Lowell and graduate with a degree in poetry, you're probably not going to make a lot of money," said Al Lee, PayScale's director of quantitative analysis. "But if you make it through one of the school's engineering programs, you're going to earn a lot of money."
According to PayScale's survey, the top five salaries for graduates belonged to Dartmouth College, $129,000; MIT and Harvard, both $126,000; Harvey Mudd College of Claremont, Calif., $125,000; and Stanford, $124,000.
UMass Lowell was ranked 26th among public colleges. Three other state public schools are listed in the survey. They are UMass Amherst, $81,300; UMass Boston, $75,000; and UMass Dartmouth, $78,500.
"Obviously, we're in some pretty elite company," said Chancellor Marty Meehan, a UMass Lowell alumnus who attributed UMass Lowell's earnings power to the school's engineering programs.
In general, engineering schools produced the best starting salaries, Lee said. Other quantitative-oriented degrees related to science, mathematics and economics filled most of the top 20 slots in both highest starting median salaries and highest midcareer median salaries.
The data includes only survey respondents whose highest academic degree is a bachelor's. Doctors, lawyers and others in high-paying jobs that require advanced degrees are not included.
Meehan learned of the survey from former Lowell City Manager William Taupier, who read about it in The New York Times while traveling in Oregon.
"This is another example of how UMass Lowell offers a high-quality education that our graduates are able to use to achieve their career goals and earn top salaries," Meehan said. "And not only does the university offer a top-notch education, it does so at an affordable price that will not leave graduates with decades of debt."
Tuition and fees currently stand at $10,681, and room and board is $8,635, for a total of $19,316 for Massachusetts residents.
Affordability was one of the reasons Salem native Lisa Brothers chose UMass Lowell. In 1984, Brothers earned a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering. Today she co-owns Boston-based Nitsch Engineering. It is the largest female-owned civil-engineering firm in the state, with 61 employees, Nitsch said.
"I couldn't afford a private school because I paid my own way, and UMass Lowell gave me such an important foundation," Brothers said. "The school teaches theory as well as practice. It was a key building block."
Besides herself, Nitsch employs six other UMass Lowell-trained engineers.
"I've got to tell you, we employ engineers from many private engineering schools, too, and the UMass Lowell grads are just as strong, or stronger," Brothers said.
In 2003, UMass Lowell recognized Brothers' contributions to engineering, presenting her with the Francis Academy Distinguished Engineering Alumni Award.
"I remain totally committed to UMass Lowell for all it's done for me," Brothers said.
Meehan said the PayScale.com data complements several other positive trends at UMass Lowell, including:
* This fall, UMass Lowell welcomed the biggest group of incoming students ever -- 2,457.
* Freshman retention increased from 76 percent to 81 percent in the last two years. That is 15 points higher than the national freshman retention rate for all U.S. colleges.
* Smarter kids are apparently applying to UMass Lowell. The average SAT score this year was 1,083, marking a 12-point increase over last year.
To read the full report click on www.payscale.com/best-colleges/top-state-universities.asp.