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UCF may have its in-state counterparts beat on student population, but the University of Florida and Florida State lead the pack in graduation rate and salary.

The Florida Department of Education recently released scorecards for every school in the state, and on average, UCF students make $43,000 after attending, versus the $44,000 and $51,300 students make after attending FSU and UF, respectively.

Additionally, when it comes to graduation rates, UF has UCF beat by 20 percent — with UF at 86 percent and UCF at 66 percent. The Noles’ rate also topples the Knights’ at 76 percent. However, UCF bested its rival in South Florida, which has a graduation rate of 60 percent and average salary of $41,700.

So what accounts for this discrepancy?

Sean Snaith, director of UCF’s Institute for Economic Competitiveness, says the university is still building its reputation, in Florida and nationwide, whereas UF has greater name recognition and a larger alumni pool.

“The range of disciplines at UF is likely more important than the name recognition,” said FSU Interim Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Sally McRorie. “With its longstanding medical school and related programs, its large engineering campus, and similar programs typically offered at land-grant institutions, UF graduates from those degrees tend to earn more initially. The data show that our students in humanities, for example, by mid-career have caught up with their peers in typical land-grant disciplines.”

McRorie added that UCF and UF recruit slightly different student populations from that of FSU. As a residential campus, FSU doesn’t see as many commuters as UCF, nor does it offer agriculture or architecture programs like UF.

UCF spokesman Chad Binette said the school’s graduation rate has continued to climb over the years. The most recent six-year rate, for students who enrolled in 2008, was 69.7 percent. To ensure these numbers continue to rise, UCF launched two new programs this semester: Think 30, which aims to get students thinking about graduation as early as orientation, and Knight Watch, which aims to prevent students from getting off track.

However, the schools that topped the list for average salaries were those private STEM-focused institutions, including the Florida Institute of Technology and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Students from these schools rake in about $53,000 and $61,000, respectively.

“It’s true that we’re in a worldwide workplace now where technology jobs are more in demand, and I think it’s been true for quite some time that STEM jobs seem to pay more,” said Wes Sumner, vice president for marketing and communications at Florida Tech.

Snaith agreed, saying, “You expect someone graduating with a degree in social work is going to make less than an engineering grad.”

And although unemployment rates are expected to fall slightly in the coming months, Snaith’s most recent economic forecast predicts payroll employment growth to remain sluggish, making it more difficult for grads to find jobs and, what’s more, negotiate competitive salaries.

While the most popular programs for most public Florida schools, according to the FDOE, were business, management and marketing, Binette pointed out that UCF awarded nearly 2,000 baccalaureate degrees in STEM fields in 2013-14 — the second-largest number in the state university system.

And although these STEM-focused schools seem to send grads into the "real world" with a better chance of earning the big bucks, their grad rates dwindle compared with public, more humanities-focused universities. The FDOE reported grad rates of 54 and 50 percent, respectively, for Embry-Riddle and Florida Tech.

“We find also that since we offer such a rigorous education experience in the STEM field, that that is sometimes raised as a concern,” Sumner said of Florida Tech’s retention rate of 67 percent. This sits a good chunk behind public schools such as UCF, UF and FSU, which retain 87, 96 and 92 percent of students.

While most schools agreed the scorecard accurately represented their institutions, John Glisch of Eastern Florida State College wasn’t pleased.

“The scorecard is very problematic and it doesn’t show the true picture. This report only looks at those students who received federal money to attend college, so it’s a narrower slice,” the associate vice president of communications said, adding that the FDOE used salaries of those students 10 years after attending even if they never graduated.

With programs ranging from philosophy to computer technology, the school, formerly known as Brevard Community College, also produces grads earning a wide range of salaries. A 2013 economic impact study, which Glisch said better represents the school, reports that those students who graduate from Eastern Florida with associate degrees make $43,100 annually, while those with bachelor’s degrees make $61,000 — both a big leap from the $28,700 the FDOE reported.

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Caroline Glenn is the Content Manager at the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter @bycarolineglenn or email her at caglenn@gannett.com.

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