Matt HealeyFriday,20 September 2013

The Snap:

Last Wednesday, released their rankings for graduate pay by school. The findings support what most of us already know: STEM majors tend to have higher pay and liberal arts degrees tend to result in low pay. While not surprising, this is information that college applicants need to know before they select a university.

The Download:

There have been a increasing number of stories about the rising cost of a 4-year degree. No one can argue with that. There are many reasons that tuition is increasing. However, I suspect the real reason is a lack of information. The general assumption is that a 4-year degree is worth the expense and this may be true. To bolster that claim, universities point to the income and net worth gap between people with a high school degree and a 4-year degree. It is significant but that data point is also incomplete. First, it treats all 4-year degrees the same. So an engineering degree is treated as equivalent as a art history degree, despite my suspicion that employers will treat the pay for those two degrees vastly different. The second is the historical nature of the data. The effects of the recent increases in education costs, which results in dramatically increased debt loads, may not have had time to fully show up in the data. These effects will become more prominent as the current 20-29 year old population who have incurred the debt, and the current 10-19 year old population who are about to incur debt become a greater portion of the sample. So it is fair to ask what the landscape will look like for current high school seniors and which schools will provide the best returns on students’ time and money.

This question makes faculty and university administrators uncomfortable because they are now being looked at through the same lens as other products. Educators want the world to view their product as above these kinds of evaluations. College should not be viewed as simply something you do to get a job. Especially a liberal arts education. That is the role of the looked-down-upon for-profit trade schools. An article in The New York Times quotes Mark Edmundson, who said, “I’m not against people making a living or prospering. But if the objective of an education is to ‘know yourself,’ it’s going to be hard to measure that.” This may have been true in the past, but since the costs have increased and the debt load incurred has followed, most students can not afford 4 years and $100,000+ for “know yourself” results. There are benefits to knowing yourself; the question that is now being asked is: “What are those benefits worth and are there cheaper ways to get achieve them?” Do I have to go to a 4-year liberal arts school to discover myself, or can I take a year between high school and college and achieve the same thing and the follow up with a 4-year degree in a field that will lead to a higher-paying job? So, I get why educators are going to resist these ratings. They put a dollar value on something that they want to view as above valuation metrics. The problem is that they have raised prices to the point where that metric is now required.

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