When searching for colleges, families should be able to know if the graduates at a particular school have been able to find jobs. And preferably good-paying jobs.
As I’ve mentioned before on this college blog, it’s almost impossible to find meaningful numbers because the employment statistics that college reps eagerly recite, with few exceptions, are almost always bogus. (See previous posts on this topic at the bottom of this article.)
The stats that college reps share come from surveys that schools send to their new graduates, but the return rates on these survey are usually dismal. And you can imagine that the students who do dutifully complete them are not the unemployed grads who are spending their days playing video games in their parents’ basement. So when a school says, for instance, that 90% or 95% or more of their grads are employed or in grad school, don’t automatically believe it.
CollegeMeasures.org, a nonprofit which has received funding from the Gates Foundation, has been working with states to provide ACTUAL salary data for new college grads with bachelor’s degrees at the university and college major level. CollegeMeasures.org now has accurate, verifiable data on overall salaries of new graduates by schools and majors in six states. Here are the states with the corresponding links, where you can find this valuable salary information:
Who Is Making More Money?
Taken as a whole, the data from the six states show that better earnings are not automatically tied to the most prestigious institutions in a state. When I checked the Colorado database, for instance, the average first-year earnings of graduates of the Colorado School of Mines, which is a public engineering school made the top median, first-year salary at $56,671. Regis University, which is a Jesuit institution in Denver, came in second at $53,705. The salaries of new grads from the University of Colorado-Denver ($43,804), a public commuter school, and the University of Denver, a private institution, ($39,094) were greater than the average earnings of grads at the state’s very popular flagship institution – the University of Colorado at Boulder ($37,735).
When looking at Texas data, I randomly picked a non-prestigious state school — Sam Houston State University in Huntsville – to compare to the University of Texas at Austin, the highly regarded flagship in the Lone Star State. I checked three majors and the Sam Houston grads were earning more in each category — biology, business, and journalism. Journalism grads at Sam Houston State University, for instance, were making $32,079 a year versus $30,361 at UT Austin.
Why We Should Care
This real data can serve as a powerful tool to illustrate to students and parents that the small percentage of schools that ambitious students think are the only ones worth attending is erroneous. When families possess real data to make decisions rather than relying on brand names and dubious college rankings, it will be easier for them to make far more intelligent decisions.
I definitely don’t think, by the way, that beginning salary data is the most important factor in selecting a school! Institutions that offer more vocational degrees like nursing, engineering and business, are more likely to have graduates with higher initial salaries. Studies have shown that many students with liberal arts majors end up catching up and surpassing some grads with vocational degrees later on.
Until there is salary transparency, however, too many schools are not going to treat career services for their students seriously. If they have to start answering questions from parents and teenagers about lackluster salary figures, institutions are more likely to take the job of preparing students for the work world — regardless of their majors — seriously.
Getting the Federal Government Involved
There are drawbacks to the current state salary-tracking systems. For instance, if an alum of University of Richmond, which can boast of having the highest-paying business grads in Virginia, found a job outside the state, Virginia wouldn’t track that grad’s earnings. Neither would the state be able to know the earnings of Virginians in the military.
Obviously the best solution would be a national program that can track salaries of grads in all 50 states. The federal government is capable of doing this, but higher-ed lobbyists, particularly from private colleges and universities, successfully blocked this from happening back in 2008. They convinced Congress to FORBID salary tracking in the Higher Education Act of 2008 because of dubious privacy arguments. That act, however, is coming up for renewal and there is a growing demand that higher-ed accountability is desperately needed and salary-tracking is a must.
In my next post, I’m going to share a scathing new report from The New American Foundation that explains how higher-education lobbyists, and in particular, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, prevented salary tracking the last time it was proposed.
Learn More at The College Solution
Measuring Colleges By Grads’ Salaries
Measuring College Grad Salaries
Check Out This College Scorecard
Sharing a College’s Return on Investment
I’m not surprised the Colorado School of Mines would have the highest average salary. It has the highest-paying engineering majors: Chemical Engineering and Petroleum Engineering as well as no liberal arts degree programs.
The problem I see with salary data is that it will favor schools that offer degree programs where students can go right to work with a Bachelor’s degree (Accounting, Nursing, Pharmacy, MIS, STEM) where liberal arts, education and social services cannot bring down the average. It would not surprise me, for example, to the see that University of Maryland-Baltimore County graduates have higher average starting salaries than those who graduated from the flagship at College Park or that James Madison University graduates or George Mason University graduates would have higher average starting salaries than graduates of The College of William and Mary or the University of Mary Washington.
However, I cannot argue about the “bang for the buck” of a Mines education. If I loved STEM, I would not pass on the chance to attend a very good, small (4,300 undergrads) public school in a beautiful state.
Stuart – I agree with you – vocational degrees will generate higher salaries initially. I think this is crucial because salaries will vary between similar type schools and within majors. I also believe having this information public will force schools to take career services seriously.
Hi Lynn! Are you sure that Regis is the highest? Colorado School of Mines has impressive numbers, and by my lookup, it is $3K higher than Regis. I am thinking about Mines because it was one of my son’s top three choices and we were there in February. Love your blog and FB page.
You are right! That didn’t seem right to me either. I looked again and CO School of Mines is at the top! And that makes perfect sense since it is an engineering school.