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Mines Grads Beat Harvard for Starting Pay; MN, ND, WY Beat SD on ROI

Last updated on 2014.11.26

Hey, math whizzes! Looking to make good money fast right out of college? Forget Harvard; sign up for engineering at School of Mines!

Harvard University's graduates are earning less than those from the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology after a decade-long commodity bull market created shortages of workers as well as minerals.

Those leaving the college of 2,300 students this year got paid a median salary of $56,700, according to PayScale Inc., which tracks employee compensation data from surveys. At Harvard, where tuition fees are almost four times higher, they got $54,100. Those scheduled to leave the campus in Rapid City, South Dakota, in May are already getting offers, at a time when about one in 10 recent U.S. college graduates is out of work [Joe Richter, "Harvard Losing out to South Dakota in Graduate Pay," Bloomberg BusinessWeek].

But hold on; that's a financial advantage just out of the gate. calculates the net 30-year return on investment for 850 U.S. colleges and universities. By that long-term count, Harvard ranks sixth, behind Harvey Mudd, Caltech, MIT, Stanford, and Princeton. School of Mines ranks 207th for students paying in-state tuition, 212th for those paying out-of-state tuition. Other schools of interest on that list:

  • #119: Carleton College, MN
  • #186: Macalaster College, MN
  • #192/218: University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
  • #262: University of St. Thomas, MN
  • #316/355: North Dakota State University (in-state/out-of-state)
  • #333/371: University of Wyoming
  • #385: Bethel University, MN
  • #409/466: University of North Dakota
  • #463/#536: University of Nebraska, Lincoln
  • #495/516: U. of Minn., Duluth
  • #547/#586: Minnesota State University, Mankato
  • #583: St. Olaf College
  • #700/723: South Dakota State University
  • #820: College of St. Benedict, MN
  • #854/881: University of South Dakota
  • #978: Concordia College, MN
  • #1060: Augustana College, SD

By Payscale's estimate, Augustana is so expensive that, even with standard Augie financial aid, after 30 years, a graudate will have less money in her pocket than if she had just skipped college and went straight to work with her high school diploma. Ouch.


  1. Mike Stunes 2012.09.18

    Obligatory question: are we accounting at all for the differences in majors and careers chosen by Harvard and Mines students? Engineering vs. non-engineering can make a serious difference there.

  2. tonyamert 2012.09.18

    Just a couple of comments:

    1. Don't go to engineering school unless you love math/science/problem solving/responsibility. You will have to do it everyday as an engineer. Most people are not good at this/can't handle it.
    2. Mines grads generally relocate to relatively low cost of living areas as opposed to graduates from ivy league schools (saw a ppt on this topic a while ago) which kind of screws up the salary comparison. Mines grads generally have substantially better buying power.
    3. Mines is a primarily undergraduate institution. If you compare only undergrads to undergrads our value goes up substantially. The professional degrees offered by ivy league schools skew the comparison as well.

  3. Douglas Wiken 2012.09.18

    Consider that 2/3 or so of students starting SDSM&T leave before graduating. Most are not ambassadors for a school with so little regard for students and their time there.

    And as Tonyamert indicates, many of those graduating don't get jobs that they can tolerate for more than a year or two and the benefits ol SDSMT rapidly diminish. The talent wasted at SDSM&T because too many professors view "education" there as a contest between them and their students is a real shame for SD.

    SD regents need tol establish standards for testing that measures something besides the mood of the professor the day he wrote the test and the mood of the grad student who grades the tests often weeks later.

    SDSM&T is a measure of talent down an educational black hole.

  4. Douglas Wiken 2012.09.18

    And, the other real shame is that many of South Dakota's best and brightest who do get an SDSM&T degree and are unable to find meaningful work in SD and we are in the process of fueling the shallow end of the gene pool here as well as making sure SD is the land of the minimum wage.

  5. Justin 2012.09.18

    Other than the Wharton School at Penn I don't know of any undergraduate professional schools in the Ivy League. Cornell has an SF school and a hotel school, but those aren't considered Ivies by most. Dartmouth has the Thayer engineering school but it is a postgraduate degree. These numbers don't include the graduate business or medical schools otherwise the Ivies would dwarf SD Tech.

  6. Justin 2012.09.18

    Sorry, for Cornell SF should be ag.

  7. Tony Amert 2012.09.18


    The graduation rate at tech is low for a number of reasons:

    1. A HUGE number of students go to tech just to get their general credits out of the way before going to other SD schools to get medical degrees. I.E. nursing. They don't finish @ tech because they transfer.
    2. Engineering is hard. Not everyone is cut out for it. (Just like I should never be a painter!) This is a problem though because no one wants to tell students that engineering might not be a good fit for them.

    In terms of your other comments, I didn't say that SDSMT graduates quit their jobs after a few years. This is just factually incorrect. In field placement rates at the school are near 100% upon graduation and @ 5 years out. I haven't seen statistics for beyond 5 years.

    I also don't understand your comments regarding professors teaching and their grading. Your comments certainly aren't reflected on any teacher rating sites. SDSMT is well above average in its average teacher rating.

    Lastly, the reason that many engineering grads don't stay in SD is simply because of a lack of jobs. This isn't the school's fault obviously, though you attempt to place blame there for some reason.

  8. Les 2012.09.18

    Im done fueling the gene pool Doug and hope you are as well....btw; scholastically speaking so to speak, does a degree insure a higher genetic level in the pool?

    This does seem to be the double edge sword a liberal could fall on.

  9. Douglas Wiken 2012.09.18

    Obviously I am not suggesting that SDSM&T contributes directly or indirectly to the exodus of those with brains and talent from South Dakota. I do however think it is terribly short-sighted of legislators and executives who fail to provide opportunity to those who might be considered bright and talented. On the other hand, students seriously considering engineering and science studies might want to determine where work is available and go there for their education. South Dakota state government now puts in perhaps one of the smallest percentage shares of total college education costs in the country so perhaps the legislators don't feel much of a loss when SD graduates leave South Dakota...and anyway, you can go anyplace from here.

  10. John 2012.09.18

    Cory, your well intentioned analysis plays the mantra that past performance is not indicative of future results.

    Hiring CEOs who recruit from SDSMT pontificate they need new hires with perspectives on world affairs, cultures, etc., yet its about impossible to minor or - godforbid double major in a language or regional or country studies at what can be a very dogmattic curriculum. SDSMT is good; yet has toom for improvement. Lashing it to BHSU would result in the betterment of both and their students.

  11. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.09.18

    John, are you going to get me going on the master consolidation plan? Move Tony, could we move Mines to Spearfish? John's broader perspectives, easier commute to Homestake, better mountain biking, prettier campus? And if we can do that, how do we want to work the cost-savings East River? Move everything to SDSU? Move DSU to the Sioux Falls campus to be closer to Citibank, the company for whom DSU was refit as a training school in 1984?

  12. Tony Amert 2012.09.18


    I don't agree with your position that CEO's are calling for more worldly students. Regardless, Tech students have a near 100% in field placement so even if that was true such rhetoric isn't driving hiring decisions.

    In terms of campus diversity, tech is by far and away the most diverse campus. Our percentage of international students is more than 4 times greater than USD, the next most internationally diverse campus. That is probably due to the extremely high value foreign cultures put on graduate engineering degrees. Tech students routinely work with foreign students on class and small group projects.

    Lashing the school to BHSU would be completely pointless. The schools teach entirely different subjects. BHSU doesn't offer an international view of anything. Learning a tiny bit of a language is pointless. In math/science/engineering english is king. Foreign journals are published in English! It's the defacto standard.


    Campus consolidation is pointless. It doesn't save money and the upfront costs of building a new facility at a centralized location would be ridiculous. Also, check how lean our campuses actually run. There is almost zero fat in the administrations. Departments->department heads->provosts->president. Over head rates are ~23%, which is insanely low for even private companies.

    The things that can be centralized, like business services and purchasing, are centralized at USD. All of the other campuses don't have such facilities.

    Homestake is dead. Nothing will ever be done there.

    Lastly, one interesting point about the tech campus. It really is a haven for socially awkward but smart kids. The majority that go are in that category and I do think that it is a major benefit for them. Dumping them into other campuses would not be very good.

  13. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.09.18

    A haven for geeks—funny I hadn't thought of that value. I don't want to invoke some bad analogy to the separate-but-equal argument, but at the university level, we may well need a variety of campuses for different learners. Interesting....

  14. Justin 2012.09.18

    I would posit, having attended an Ivy League school and being a geek myself, that overcoming social awkardness almost certainly results in higher earning power than being proficient in Organic Chemistry or Differential Equations.

    Failure to address that probably has a lot to do with the long term earning results of a Harvard vs a SD Tech, and with some of the complaints filed here in the comments. Still, I think it would be fallacious to claim that a liberal arts education is more effective than pharmaceuticals in dealing with such social issues.

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