A Law to Publicize the Salaries of New Grads?

Heavy
pressures for more accountability are descending on colleges.  Senators
Ron Wyden and Marco Rubio want states to release data on salaries for recent
grads of public colleges, and Eric Cantor pledges the same in the House.
 The information, the argument goes,  would help parents and high
school seniors make wiser choices, the reasoning goes, with student debt
pressing students to think not only about matriculation, but about the job
market as well.

Of
course, colleges don’t want the extra burden of compiling data–a reasonable
concern–while an official at the American Council on Education worries that the
salary measure is too narrow and that it will reflect poorly on the fine arts
(“You don’t need a database to tell you that people who major in fine arts won’t
earn a lot of money when they graduate,” he says.) 

We
might add that it will produce some striking findings that gainsay much of the
common beliefs about higher education.  The story cites one case in
Virginia:

“Among
graduates who live in Virginia, the highest starting wages for a bachelor’s
degree were $56,400 for graduates of Jefferson College of Health Sciences, a
Roanoke school that largely turns out nursing graduates.

“That was
42% higher than the University of Virginia’s average of $39,648. Overall,
students with associate’s degrees in technical fields, such as health care,
earned more than recipients of bachelor’s degrees.”

Overall, a
two-year technical degree pays more than four-year bachelor’s degree? 
That certainly upsets the universal presumption that two-year colleges are
inferior to four-year ones. 

If the data
can be broken down by major, further embarrassments may follow.  Many
would love to examine salaries for graduates in various social science and
humanities fields.  Think of what they might do with the results.  An
administrator who needs to make cuts in order to meet a budget could use low
performers as justification for his or her choices.  A department that
scores highly would likely insert the results into its promotional literature. 
Departments that sit at the bottom of the salary list would . . . well, what
would they do?

The Chronicle
of Higher Education
would collect national data and publish them, producing
a whole new element in higher education commentary–the “success measure” (or
something like that).  Fields that produced low-income graduates would
forever be on the defensive, any mention of them in the press potentially
carrying with it the addendum of poor employment prospects. 
Undergraduates might vote with their feet, prodded by parents, while
legislators and governors will ask, “Why are we supporting departments that
don’t support our economy?”  Fair or not, those are the implications.

Mark Bauerlein

Mark Bauerlein is a professor emeritus of English at Emory University and an editor at First Things, where he hosts a podcast twice a week. He is the author of five books, including The Dumbest Generation Grows Up: From Stupefied Youth to Dangerous Adults.

One thought on “A Law to Publicize the Salaries of New Grads?”

  1. We really don’t need a new government program — with more college bureaucrats at increased cost to students, of course — to inform people about salaries of different fields. The information is already readily available e.g. from National Association of Colleges and Employers | http://www.naceweb.org and many other sources. Plus, it’s no secret that engineers, finance, and the like are at the top of the salary heap. I’m skeptical that beginning nurses generally make more than beginning nurses — though nurses certainly do well.
    This shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows that nursing involves a lot of science courses, is very competitive nowadays for admission, and involves a long hard grind, followed by a very stressful career afterward.
    Do we really need new regulations and bureaucracies to tell us that, say, air conditioning technicians do pretty well and that art history majors are pretty low on the salary scale? Do we really want everyone to go into these supposedly high paying (and often unpleasant) fields in high demand? Because if they do, apart from the human cost of people going into fields they will find they hate, soon those fields will be overpopulated, the demand will plummet, and the salaries will drop. Sounds like creating a bubble and then popping it to me.
    All of you who are awaiting the popping of the higher education bubble, please take note!

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