Engineering accounts for eight of the 10 most highly paid degrees, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers' Winter 2010 Salary Survey of offers to 2010 bachelor's degree graduates. Mechanical engineering was the seventh best paying degree in the survey, with an average salary of $58,392.
Petroleum engineering was the top paying degree, with average offers rising to $86,220, from $83,121 in spring 2009. It was followed by chemical engineering, mining and mineral engineering, and the only non-engineering degrees on the list, computer science and computer engineering.
Overall, engineering salaries rose 1.2 percent from winter 2010 to $59,245. Civil engineers posted the largest increase among the engineering disciplines, rising 3.6 percent to $52,605. Electrical engineering offers rose 2.9 percent to $59,074.
Engineers fared better than graduating business majors. Offers declined 0.7 percent to $47,982 for accounting majors and fell 0.4 percent to $49,607 for finance majors. Business administration and management graduates saw average offers slip 1.5 percent to $45,200.
Liberal arts majors took the hardest hit. Compared with one year ago, their average offer fell to $32,555, down nearly 11 percent from $36,445 in 2009.
"While a variety of factors play a role in determining salaries, new graduates with degrees in the technical fields tend to benefit from their relatively low supply. There is more competition for their skills, driving up their salary offers," said Marilyn Mackes, the executive director of the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
Tellingly, she points to petroleum engineers, who command the highest salaries yet account for less than 1 percent of all bachelor's degrees. "Not every case is that extreme, but, in general, candidates with technical degrees have an advantage in the job market," Mackes said.
The Salary Survey is a quarterly report of starting salary offers to new bachelor degree graduates. It covers 70 disciplines and compiles data from college and university career services offices nationwide.