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CSUF Business Scholar Explores Education and Career Success
Study confirms that promotions and salary are affected by having at least an undergraduate degree, particularly in business and engineering.

January 24, 2006 :: No. 117

How much of an effect does a college education have in making it big as a manager?

A study conducted by Sharon L. Purkiss, associate professor of management at Cal State Fullerton, confirms that promotions and salary are affected by having at least an undergraduate degree, particularly in business and engineering.

Working with her on the study were Amy Hurley Hanson and Stefan Wally of Chapman University and Jeffrey Sonnenfeld of Yale University.

"The importance of an undergraduate degree seems to be increasing over time," noted Purkiss, whose area of expertise is organizational and human resource management. "The selectivity of a university seems to hold less importance than the type of degree in career attainment."

The study involved a large U.S.-based international service company, where the researchers reviewed human resource records from previous decades. They compared two groups of employees who worked at the company a decade apart — 1972 and 1982 — and measured promotions into the upper levels of service.

"We looked at all kinds of things, including timing of degree," Purkiss noted. "There was lot of business support in earning a degree, and it was recognized for its added value."

Despite that recognition, however, the study found that it didn't seem to affect career attainment if the degree was earned after entering the firm. "Perhaps you have to change organizations to reap the benefits of earning the degree," Purkiss said. It's something she would like to delve into in future studies.

During the study, Purkiss also looked at control variables, such as gender, which didn't seem to make much of a difference, and race, which did, in the particular industry she studied.

Results of the study were published in the article "The Changing Role of Education in Managerial Career Attainment" in Vol. 34, No. 5 of Personnel Review . The article can be viewed on the web at Click on "Personnel Review," then "Issue 5, 2005."


Media Contacts:

Sharon L. Purkiss, associate professor of management, at
Pamela McLaren of Public Affairs, at 657-278-4852 or

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Sharon Purkiss
Sharon Purkiss


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