Saturday, 22 December 2012

Calculating a College Degree's True Value

How much is a college diploma actually worth? The perennial question asked by every former English, philosophy, and art history major now has an answer in some states. For University of Virginia students, it pays to major in engineering—$60,300, on average, 18 months after graduation—rather than sociology ($33,154), or worse, biology ($27,209). In Tennessee, a graduate of Dyersburg State Community College with an associate’s degree in health earns an average $5,000 more than someone who majored in health and picked up a bachelor’s at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, the state’s flagship school.
With tuition and student debt skyrocketing and dim job prospects awaiting many graduates, states are trying to show residents what kind of return they can realistically expect for investing in a degree from a public college or university. That’s why Virginia, Tennessee, and Arkansas are collecting salary data on their graduates and posting it online at, a website run by a former education official in the Bush administration. The database, which doesn’t reveal any names or other identifying information, shows students how much money they can expect to earn based on the major and school they choose. Colorado, Nevada, and Texas will also begin using it in early 2013.
“What we want is for students to make informed decisions,” says Tod Massa, director of policy research and data warehousing at Virginia’s State Council of Higher Education. Massa, who’d been pushing for such a database for years, had little success until 2011, when the Virginia legislature passed a law mandating that the state publish salary data for graduates of all colleges and universities, public and private. Schools “need to coordinate their level of student borrowing with [students’] likely ability to repay,” Massa says. Virginia shares its information with CollegeMeasures and operates its own website, publishing data for graduates up to five years out of school.

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