Study: NIC grads best paid in Idaho, but trail neighbors

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    Underdahl

Numbers released by career website Zippia on Aug. 2 show that North Idaho College graduates earn more than their peers from other Idaho community colleges, but lag behind the top community college graduates from nearby states.

Ten years after beginning their studies, NIC alumni averaged salaries of $35,100 per year, tops in the state for average earnings among community college graduates. The study used College Scorecard data from the U.S. Department of Education.

Marian Underdahl, director of nursing at NIC, said the Cardinals’ program is well-respected in the region.

“I hear from nurses that our graduates are very well prepared,” she said.

The school’s nursing graduates have a high pass rate for national licensure exams, she added.

“Our students don’t have any problem finding jobs. As long as they stay in nursing when they graduate, they’ll find a job — usually within three months,” she said.

According to Idaho Department of Labor data released in May, the average entry-level wage for registered nurses in Kootenai County is $25.41, or $52,844 annually. The average hourly wage is $34.63, or $72,036 annually.

Underdahl said a glut of nurses 55 and older means that “we are on the tip of the iceberg of a shortage of nurses.” Salaries are likely to stay high or even rise as current nurses retire, and as Baby Boomers have increased needs for health care services. She added that it’s a satisfying career. A lot of people go home at the end of the day feeling frustrated, but as a nurse “you always feel like you made a difference,” Underdahl said.

Lita Burns, vice president for instruction at NIC, said the approximately 30 percent of NIC students who pursue degrees in fields such as nursing and in the skilled trades such as welding, diesel engines, and HVAC earn better wages than their peers who pursue other degrees.

“Those trade programs traditionally are pretty high paying, especially now in this economy when construction is high,” Burns said. “There’s a real demand for HVAC work. Diesel mechanics are always in high demand.”

She was a bit disappointed that NIC’s average salary wasn’t higher, but said it’s hard work convincing students to go into career and technical programs as opposed to the liberal arts.

“We constantly fight a stigma about career and technical education. They are great-paying jobs and graduates can remain in North Idaho, but we have trouble recruiting for that,” she said.

Most students think college should be about getting a bachelor’s degree in English or the arts, said Burns.

“It takes them longer to get to those higher salaries” in such fields, if ever. For instance, IDL said the entry-level hourly wage for writers and authors in Kootenai County is $10.83, or $22,533 annually.

Despite NIC’s success, graduates from the top community colleges in neighboring states made $4,800 to $15,300 more per year. Highlands College Of Montana Tech grads earned an average of $50,400; Cascadia College grads in Washington averaged $49,200; Casper College grads in Wyoming averaged $40,500; and Portland Community College alumni averaged $39,900.

Burns said she wasn’t sure why neighboring states’ top community colleges outpaced Idaho’s, but said Wyoming’s gas and energy boom, as well as Washington’s typically higher wages and salaries, might offer some explanation. She credited Gov. Butch Otter and his workforce development council for promoting careers in high-paying fields here in Idaho.

To see the full report, go to: bit.ly/2OBODvM

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