In a survey of earnings of graduates from 95 West Coast colleges, Southern Oregon University has been ranked near the bottom at No. 88, with grads in full-time employment earning an average starting pay of $37,000 and a mid-career income of $67,100.

In a survey of earnings of graduates from 95 West Coast colleges, Southern Oregon University has been ranked near the bottom at No. 88, with grads in full-time employment earning an average starting pay of $37,000 and a mid-career income of $67,100.

Scientific and technical schools crowded the top ranks of the survey by PayScale College Salary Report, with Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls at No. 26 with starting incomes of $54,400 and mid-career salaries averaging $86,900.

Unfazed by the ranking, SOU spokesman Jim Beaver said the school attracts its students because it's not a specialized science school but epitomizes the idea of liberal arts, with students able to get an "accessible and affordable" education at a place that's "a college for everyone."

Junior Lily Hammer, a business major, agreed.

Emerging from Hannon Library on campus, she said: "I like SOU because it is liberal arts. It's well-rounded and you can be involved in the community and lots of classes outside your major. It makes you a better candidate for jobs, in my opinion."

Anthropology sophomore Sarah Lind dismissed the study, saying, "I know I can find a good job with no trouble. I have lots of interviews and volunteer experience and good self-advocacy training."

Lind says she's glad her studies are not highly specialized, as at OIT, and that "my life is not going to be based on how much I can earn. I want a decent standard of living, where I'm comfortable and don't have to worry. People with lots of money are not all that happy with their work."

Chris Stanek, SOU's director of institutional research, questioned the PayScale study. He said it is not comprehensive, uses "smaller data sets" and samples only those who return the survey, giving it a statistical reliability of plus or minus 10 percent.

"Their charts are plastered with 'not enough data' for all the large employers in the Rogue Valley," he said. "In fact, that seems to be the case for many of the schools' reports, including OIT."

Beaver noted that the marketplace skews its financial rewards toward engineering, medical technology, science and math, while teachers are "unfortunately, notoriously underpaid."

"Not everyone wants to be a med-tech or engineer," he said. "We offer 36 majors to choose from. Some may not be the best pay, but pay isn't the only measure of success in life. Happiness and challenge are the best measure of success for lots of people."

SOU senior Chad Magruder, who is majoring in art, said he came home to Ashland, where he grew up, and gave up his corporate finance studies at an out-of-state university because "it didn't have that passion and soul that art has."

"I asked myself where I could get that passion and it's here," he said. "I love it and I'm much happier."

OIT grads earn one of the highest starting salaries in the nation, placing the school 38th among 1,058 colleges in the U.S. That salary is also the highest in Oregon and the fourth highest in the western United States.

PayScale reports that OIT's mid-career salaries place it first in Oregon and within the top 15 percent in the nation.

In Oregon, the mid-career rankings, in descending order, were: OIT, Oregon State University, Willamette, Reed, Pacific Lutheran, University of Portland, University of Oregon, Lewis & Clark, Portland State, Linfield, SOU, George Fox and Western Oregon University.

The top 10 majors for earnings were mostly in engineering, with a few in math, computer science or statistics, according to PayScale. The top earners in the nation came from Princeton.

The survey is at www.payscale.com/college-salary-report-2013/west-coast-schools.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.