60% of Mass. high school grads stay, work here

Data covers public high school grads over last 10 years


ABOUT 60 PERCENT of students who graduated from Massachusetts public high schools over the last 10 years were employed in the state years after graduation, according to state education department data.

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released a wage earnings report for the first time in late October, showing employment and earnings rates for graduates of Massachusetts’ schools.

The report was required under the Student Opportunity Act, a law signed in 2019 to address educational inequity in the state. Postsecondary education data, which is also included in the report, has been publicly available for several years.

Rob Curtin, associate commissioner for DESE’s Center for District Support, gave a presentation on the report to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education at its meeting Tuesday, calling the wage earnings numbers the department’s “newest venture” into data sharing.

Some of the findings were somewhat expected, Curtin said, such as wage gaps between different student groups, and that graduates’ earnings increased over time and varied within industry fields.

Of the 65,022 high school graduates in 2010 — the earliest year explored in the data — 47,804 were enrolled in postsecondary education the following year. While most of these former students have now moved into the workforce, there were 4,104 students still pursuing higher degrees from this class in 2021.

In the same graduating class 11,898 people went straight into the workforce after high school, making an average $6,209 at the time. The number of graduates employed from the class of 2010 has increased to 38,259 in 2021, and they make an average $59,404.

By 2021, Asian graduates from the classes of 2010 through 2016 were the highest earners amongst their peers, followed by white graduates — with the exception of 2012 where Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islanders made the most on average.

In every graduating class since 2010 male students have made more money on average than their female peers.

Of the 68,388 students who graduated in 2020, 44,554 were enrolled in postsecondary schools around the country by 2021, and 4,238 were employed.

There are some limitations on what the data can tell readers, Curtin said.

The research center that compiles the postsecondary education data, for example, only covers 97.4 percent of all institutions in the US and no international postsecondary institutions. Also, for the sake of accurate wage earnings reporting for graduates with full-time jobs, students at postsecondary schools who work part-time were not included in the wage earnings averages.

The wage data is drawn from the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance, so it only includes individuals who work at businesses in the state that contribute to the unemployment insurance system. No out-of-state, federal or self-employed workers were counted.

This system does, however, allow the state to analyze how many high school graduates stay and work in Massachusetts after high school — about 60 percent, Curtin said.

“We hear about whether or not students tend to leave Massachusetts after they’re done with postsecondary, whether it be the cost of living or other reasons, but I, at least myself, was pleasantly surprised that just about for every year we have in here we have data on about 60 percent of our high school graduates given whatever year you’re looking at,” Curtin said.

Members of the board said they were excited about the reporting. Member Martin West said the postsecondary data offers an “opportunity to enhance our high school accountability systems,” though he cautioned against jumping to conclusions with the wage data.

Meet the Author

Sam Drysdale

Reporter, State House News Service
“One of the things we’ve often found in looking at wage outcomes, is that they tend to be a little unstable and hard to interpret until the upper 20s, because people are in school full time or part time, they may have lower earnings because they’re going to have big earnings later on,” West said. “I think we should be cautious in rushing to interpret differences across groups, or the lack of differences across groups.”

Curtin said the report is only for public information, and there are no current plans to use it for school accountability purposes. He also called October’s report “version one,” saying the department will likely “make improvements” and “go deeper” into the data in the future, as well as update it annually.