Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Universities have practically no effect on graduates' salaries. Let's hold universities responsible for graduates' salaries.

I was all set to hulk out on the Department of Education's new College Scorecard site, but Matt Reed beat me to it.

The College Scorecard reports attendance costs, graduation rates, and graduates' incomes. What the friendly interface doesn't show you, though, is that the institution has very little effect on earnings, once you correct for other factors.

The thing is, the DoE knows this. It's in the accompanying policy paper (PDF).

only about 5 percent of the variation in earnings across students who attend four-year schools is explained by the institution those students attend”  (p. 49). If that’s largely correct, then the entire premise of “performance funding” is flawed.
 So why, on the College Scorecard site, do we see this?

I can't believe I even have to point this out:  Being associated with higher incomes and leading to higher incomes are two different things. Whitening smokers' teeth isn't going to prevent lung cancer. And attending an institution full of wealthy engineering majors won't do much for your lifetime earnings if you're a first-generation student majoring in social work.

No one's surprised by this, right?
What does the DoE want us to do with these results? I assume that the College Scorecard is intended to motivate us to do the right things so that our graduates get high-paying jobs.

So do we all go out there and fight to recruit wealthy, white,  tall, attractive, conscientious male extroverts who are studying petroleum engineering? (And maybe some women too, I guess, as long as they're thin, blonde, and don't plan to have kids.)

Entrepreneurial personality types earn the most. Introverted idealists earn the least. Go figure.

Or, as Matt Reed suggests, is the entire premise of "performance funding" flawed?


  1. Yes, the entire premise of "performance funding" is flawed.

    Among its many duties, the USGS publishes maps. If they were to follow the DoE's method of presenting data evident here, those maps would be indistinguishable from, and therefore as useful as, the fingerpainting of the average kindergartener,

    Ogre want to SMASH!

  2. This goes in the same damn category as "multiple choice tests measure testing ability" and "student evaluations of teaching are nearly random data" but the way social scientists are trained these days seems to leave most incapable of questioning the validity of data.

  3. Thank you for this excellent post.

    Where I now teach ranks higher than where I once studied.

    All my alma mater did was to give a chance to a first-generation English speaker and first-generation eighth-grade graduate to wind up in the Northeast as a teacher at a school where its students earn good starting salaries and its faculty members don't.

    1. Is there a Hallmark card for Ironic Congratulations?

      Are you better off than your cousins and sixth-grade classmates financially or in a sense of having meaningful work? Or are they happier with their jobs and the results of their jobs?

    2. Sorry! My snark wasn't clear. :)

      My public school offers all types of students the chance to test themselves, but where I now teach greatly limits the type of student it accepts. Therefore, its graduation rates are higher, and with its emphasis on "applied" programs, its ranking will simply rise because of the students' future earnings.

      And if I may, no one teaching anywhere is a humble as I am about the life--professional and personal--that my alma mater helped me to have. I wish I could help students who were like me have that chance, but we don't accept them (if they don't play sports).

      No more snark from me.

  4. Thank you, Frankie Bow, for the boost today. My friend has just hired a college application coach for her high school junior to get her into the best university possible. I have not done that for either offspring, and in fact have told Son # 2 that he should focus on public colleges and universities in our great state. The friend's daughter is a straight-A STEM student; my son, not so much. My sense is that the kids' respective work ethics are what will make the difference in who ends up making the big bucks.

  5. Well, this makes me feel a bit better about falling well below the medium income for Ivy League grads 10 years out of school. I don't know why the "look how much more Ivy League grads are making than you" stories that came out of the same data set depressed me (it's not as if they were news to me, or my freshman-year roommate the public interest lawyer, or my classmate the mid-level city housing agency bureaucrat/semi-professional actor), but they did. Apparently I'm not doing all that well for an INTJ, either, but that may be because the "I" is the only really strong trait. I could definitely pass as an introverted idealist. It's also possible that my present, NTT job doesn't give me much opportunity to exercise some of the more valued TJ traits; when I took a leadership diagnostic that's being touted around our institution, it struck me that my identified strengths in analyzing the big picture, strategizing, etc., weren't exactly best suited to teaching the same class over and over again as part of a 4/4 load.

    On a less personal note, my present department's graduates earn quite well for English majors, and that statistic is, of course, happily publicized every time a new data set is released. What goes unmentioned in such rankings (and what I usually but not always manage to refrain from adding to the conversation myself, at least in public) is that we live in an extremely high-cost-of-living-area, and most of our graduates tend to stay local after graduation. Professors' salaries at my institution look pretty good, too, until you add that bit of context.