David Ciscel is professor emeritus of economics at University of Memphis.

By David Ciscel

The University of Memphis is our local University. When the Wall Street Journal rankings of colleges and universities appeared last week, UM didn’t have big bragging rights.  But UM is extremely important to the region.

There are several others that are also important – UT Health Sciences, Rhodes, CBU, and LeMoyne Owen.

Plus, there are several schools that offer courses and degrees in Memphis but this is not their home base. And there are the community colleges that prepare students for further education or provide technical/vocational skills for the labor force. Finally, Ole Miss and ASU are close enough to be considered local players in the higher education market.

But when it comes to delivering large numbers of graduates to the local and regional economy, the University of Memphis is probably the strongest growth engine in the region. And, though we don’t think about it often, the University is also probably the biggest antipoverty program in the region.

Look at the sheer size of the graduating class each year. This past year UM delivered over 4,000 graduates to the labor market. Many of those students graduate with considerable work experience, since UM is a University where students often work as they study for their degrees.

2007-2008 2017-2018 Percent Change
Baccalaureate 2,442 3,136 28.4%
Masters 875 912 4.2%
Professional 126 106 -15.9%
Doctoral 107 158 47.7%
   Total 3,550 4,312 21.5%


And note that the University does a modestly good job of preparing women and minorities for the job market. During the 2017-2018 school year, 60.9% of the graduates (all degrees) were women, that is, 2,672 educated women were added to the labor force.

same year 1,274 students who identified as African American also received degrees from the University. While number of black graduates is small relative to the size of the African American population in Shelby county, UM probably represents one the best producers of minority graduates outside the historically black institutions of higher education.

While the UM Office of Institutional Research maintains details on earnings of graduates, payscale.com provides a simple indication of median yearly earnings of UM graduates: $61,498 for a BBA, $66,848 for a BS and $55,015 for a BA. And graduate degrees pay substantially more.

Note that payscale.com reports that the average yearly salary in Memphis $47,240 (an income that includes college graduates). And the actual household income is only $38,826 in Memphis. Each year UM provides the local labor market with new highly trained individuals. They do well in the regional economy and provide a strong incentive for regional economic growth into the future. And each year, UM does the same thing over again – putting thousands of well-trained graduates into the regional labor market.

Note: The author worked as a professor of economics at the University of Memphis for 33 years.