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Vo-Tech Grads’ Starting Salary 93% of SD Average Pay

The Board of Educational Standards learned Thursday that the vo-techs (which are now technically colleges) they oversee continue to see nearly the vast majority of their graduates go straight to work in their fields in South Dakota. Out of 2,396 2019–2020 graduates, out of the 88% who responded to the vo-techs’ latest placement survey, and out of the 85% of those responders who went straight to the workforce instead of college or the military or other pursuits, 86% got jobs in their fields here in South Dakota. (Multiply those percentages, and we know that 64% of our 2019–2020 vo-tech graduates got in-field jobs in South Dakota.)

So how are those grads doing for pay?

Career Cluster % employed in field in SD Avg in-field wage/hr
Agriculture, Food, & Natural Resources 80% $19.82
Architecture & Construction 83% $20.61
Arts, Audio-VIdeo Technology, & Communications 83% $14.14
Business, Management, & Administration 97% $17.92
Finance 80% $16.93
Health Science 82% $20.90
Hospitality & Tourism 100% $15.03
Human Services 89% $13.52
Information Technology 91% $19.40
Law, Public Safety, & Security 90% $19.85
Manufacturing 91% $22.60
Marketing, Sales, & Service 91% $16.93
Multi-/Interdisciplinary Studies, General 100% $26.86
STEM 94% $20.51
Transportation, Distribution, & Logistics 80% $20.83
TOTAL 87% $20.06

Graduates in human services and arts/AV/communications don’t appear to be landing jobs that make their degrees pay off; their starting hourly wages are stuck at averages of $13.52 and $14.14, respectively, or less than $30K. The average wage for all graduates is $20.06 an hour, or $40,120 for their first year out.

The strangest figure in the salary column is that for the multi-/interdisciplinary/general studies grads, who are reporting making $26.86 an hour, or $53,720 a year in their first post-degree work. The rhetoric from our governors and the vo-techs themselves would suggest that the best-paying jobs would go to the grads who do those most specific technical programs, but the next best in-field starting salaries are $45,200 for manufacturing, $41,800 for health care, and $41,660 for transportation/logistics. So, weirdly, the grads who went to vo-tech and did the opposite of what the vo-techs are all about are reporting 34% better paychecks than their average and likely more narrowly focused cap-and-gownmates.

But salt that grain of statistical weirdness: the survey heard from just six of just seven graduates in the multi-inter-general field, versus 208 respondents in manufacturing, 695 in health science, and 224 in transportation/logistics.

At their groupwide average of $20.06 an hour, our recent vo-tech grads are earning 47% more than the average starting salary of $13.63 an hour that Zip Recruiter reports for South Dakota. Our vo-tech grads are already beating South Dakota’s May 2020 median wage of $17.70, and they are making 93% of our statewide average wage of $21.62. So in South Dakota, two-year degrees appear to put their holders in a decent position to become the Joneses with whom everyone else wants to keep up.


  1. grudznick 2021-05-23 08:39

    That’s pretty good. It makes sense that kids right out of these “colleges” wouldn’t get to jump right to the average South Dakota salary. I would have guessed they would start even lower than 93% of that average. They are what people call “newbies” and need work harder and earn their way up the ranks. We don’t live in a world where all the women are beautiful and every child or worker is above average. But 93% of average is a darn high place to start, especially for not having gone to a real college.

    This morning’s Opening Rant at the Conservatives with Common Sense breakfast will be about the workforces among us who don’t want to work and the workforces not among us who might want to work.

  2. Richard Schriever 2021-05-23 09:09

    It’s pretty broadly understood, that for those with 4-year requiring degree jobs employers PREFER to hire people with a less narrow focus in their studies. Having such a more broad set of interests, information and perspective indicates to an employer that such a hire would be better equipped to deal with a wider range of situations and responsibilities. So, the fact that grads with a more generalist background get better pay is not surprising to me. Those hires are probably in jobs that have a more broad set of responsibilities (more managerial in nature).

    At least this is what research I’ve read in my field of study (PhD (ABD) Organizational Psychology) tells me is a highly probable explanation.

  3. Richard Schriever 2021-05-23 09:12

    grudz, In a world that consists of worker bees, queen bees, one-function drones and those that steal their honey, which are you?

  4. Mark Anderson 2021-05-23 14:32

    For what its worth Grudz, thats a penny for your thoughts breakfast. I’m sure that’s the tip level too.

  5. Marie 2021-05-23 16:17

    How does post-secondary education pay in South Dakota?

    Median earnings are higher in all surrounding states.

    The WSJ report “The Most and Least Educated States (12/21/20)” shows that SD ranks lowest among surrounding states—MN, IA, NE, WY, ND–for 2019 median wages for all workers ($38,646) and for those with bachelor’s degrees ($47,630—9th lowest in US).

    Higher-educated or not, SD workers’ lower earnings are diminished by the 4th most regressive state and local tax system in the US–heavily reliant on property taxes, sales taxes, and gambling revenue–a tax by another name.

    MN, IA, NE, WY, and ND have more equitable state and local tax systems than South Dakota.

    ITEP, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, reports that South Dakotan’s with the lowest 20% share of family income pay 11.2% of family income in state and local taxes. The middle 20% pays 8.9%. The 80-99th percentile pays 5.8%, while the top 1% pays just 2.5%,

    Consider the WSJ/ITEP reported difference between SD and MN–a state with the nation’s 4th most progressive tax system, including a progressive income tax.

    Minnesotans with the lowest 20% share of family income pay 8.7% of family income in state and local taxes.
    The middle 20th percentile pays 9.7%. The 80-99th percentile pays 9.5%, and the top 1% pays 10.1%.

    The results–higher post-secondary educational attainment, higher earnings, and better social safety nets for more in Minnesota.

    % of Adults w/bachelor’s degree: SD 29.7%–MN–37.3%%.
    US Rank: SD–#34, MN–#10.

    Median Earnings–All workers: SD–$38,646, MN–$47,050.
    US Rank: SD–#44, MN–#9.

    Median Earnings w/ bachelor’s degree: SD– $47,630, MN– $60,376.
    US Rank: SD–#41, MN–#11.

    Many young South Dakotans are likely to continue to find better long-term post-secondary earnings opportunities elsewhere.

  6. Mark Winegar 2021-05-23 19:20

    Not impressed. Rather than worrying about names they ought to be modeling themselves after the successful community colleges in other states.

  7. Arlo Blundt 2021-05-23 20:47

    Well…as a former employer and supervisor, I know that when you have a tech problem, you have a PROBLEM. You’ll pay to bring in a person to solve the problem, because the PROBLEM is costing you money. If the interviewee also seems to have a broad range of knowledge, is personable, and seems adaptive and willing to learn, you see potential to shift that person from problem to problem as they mature in the organization. Talent and personality are worth money. Those attributes make money for the company and for the employee.

  8. O 2021-05-23 21:53

    I’m left questioning what is the metric and what is being measured with these statistics. Is the point that vo-tech grads do well (by the metric of average SD salary), or that SD salaries are low (that they barely spike above two-year degrees with no experience)?

  9. Richard F Schriever 2021-05-24 09:11

    Good observation “O”. You must have liberal arts education.

  10. Allen Dunlavy 2021-05-24 09:24

    The bottom line is this, I have hired hundreds of employees, some of specific trades such as refrigeration and others for broader items as quality assurance. The person you hire must fit the spot in some instances due to the trade they have is necessary for the company to run and run well. My theory though is this and has proven itself over many times. I will hire a grad from tech schools or 4 year colleges, if a potential employee has taken and completed any course in a school of any kind, they will for the most part be a successful employee regardless of what you have them do. You know they can learn because they graduated from whatever, you know they are fairly intelligent because they graduated from whatever. You know they must be somewhat ambitious because they got up everyday to attend class for two to four years, if I have that, I can make whatever I want out of them as a good manager, the raw material is there, now it is my job as a manager to mold it into whatever I want. That is the fact of being a good manager.

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