College Scorecard: low salaries, gender gaps, and loan defaults
September 13, 2015 10:58 AM   Subscribe

The US Department of Education has released the College Scorecard, matching financial aid data to federal tax returns. At some expensive colleges, the salaries of students 10 years after enrollment are bleak, and there is an earnings gender gap at every top university.

Although earnings of college graduates continue to outpace those of non-collegians by a significant margin, at some institutions, the earnings of students 10 years after enrollment are bleak.

The Department of Education calculated the percentage of students at each college who earned more than $25,000 per year, which is about what high school graduates earn. At hundreds of colleges, less than half of students met this threshold 10 years after enrolling. The list includes a raft of barber academies, cosmetology schools and for-profit colleges that often leave students with few job prospects and mountains of debt.

But some more well-known institutions weren’t far behind. At Bennington College in Vermont, over 48 percent of former students were earning less than $25,000 per year. A quarter were earning less than $10,600 per year. At Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, the median annual earnings were only $35,700. Results at the University of New Mexico were almost exactly the same.
posted by Dip Flash (41 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
Hmmm. 10 years after enrolling in college, I was in grad school, so yeah, I wasn't earning very much money. I wonder if part of what's going on with Bard and Bennington is that that particular criterion punishes schools for sending a lot of students to graduate programs. I'm also wondering how you would account for people who are not in the workforce because they're caring for young children. 10 years from enrollment might also be peak baby-having years.

Anyway, I work at a university, and we look pretty good according to those numbers. But you have to keep in mind, I think, that we're being compared to some truly shitty schools, so having above-average graduation rates and earnings and below-average costs is not necessarily anything to write home about.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:21 AM on September 13, 2015 [6 favorites]


10 years after enrolling in college, I was in grad school, so yeah, I wasn't earning very much money. I wonder if part of what's going on with Bard and Bennington is that that particular criterion punishes schools for sending a lot of students to graduate programs.

I wondered the same thing when I looked at the figures for the school I attended and thought about where I was ten years after graduation. Places that send a high percentage of students on to grad school are going to have a lower ten year salary average, but might look pretty good at the fifteen or twenty year mark.
posted by Dip Flash at 11:28 AM on September 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Bard grad here; adjusting for inflation I made more the first two years after I graduated than I have until just this year.

Even before I graduated my resume was snapped up immediately to investigate police misconduct in NYC, and so I was making decent public employee wages in NYC under AFSCME. Then I had offers from law firms to do paralegal work, and non-profits to do fundraising. Instead I went to grad school in philosophy. So it's my own fault I took the paycut.

But I think Bard probably does deserve a little of the blame, for making money less interesting than challenging and rewarding work. Our class created a graduation shirt that year, which had a drawing of a guy wearing a chicken on his back with the caption: "I'm going to make a lot of money." So... yeah. That's a bit different than the problems plaguing beauty schools where apparently 90% of the graduates are making less than $25,000 a year which is basically what the loans cost.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:30 AM on September 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's a silly way to compare, when you're lumping all schools together. Engineering schools will do great. Schools with a fast track to Wall Street will do great. Schools that enroll the more thoughtful/altrustic/etc set of mostly rich/uppermiddleclass students, who travel or go to grad school or do nonprofit work or intern for a long time building up networks and so on, will do worse, when those students may be getting into exactly the positions they intended and want to be in, and in their social class there's a higher social value placed on those kinds of tracks and they can afford to do it. And this is even setting aside for-profit schools and vocational schools.

(I mean, the need for good comparative numbers is a real need, but this way of presenting the comparison seems to just confuse the issues.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:39 AM on September 13, 2015 [11 favorites]


Important to note that this is salary of students receiving federal financial aid, not of all students.

At a lot of the big name schools, that's a small fraction of students -- both because many are rich coming in (and tend to stay rich going out), and because the schools have a lot of internal resources and can give their own financial aid.
posted by miyabo at 11:42 AM on September 13, 2015 [8 favorites]


Us teachers in Seattle are still on strike in part because of the terrible pay. I don't want anyone to think that's our only cause, but it's definitely on the list.

Turns out we're pretty much all college grads.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 11:57 AM on September 13, 2015 [13 favorites]


Yeah, looking at some schools I know, colleges that graduate a lot of people who will be schoolteachers get hit hard in the average salary on this.

Skepticism aside, looking more at this, it's pretty great they've put up a nice-looking website that offers a button on the school's listing page saying "get help paying for college" and makes it easy to hook into federal loans, and shows the average monthly loan repayment for students who have federal loans from this school. It's interesting to think about how much putting this info in a central place with a nice modern-looking presentation will make a difference in how accessible the process is... like if you're a first-generation student and can find info about your state school as easily as info for some predatory for-profit place, that's a good thing.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:06 PM on September 13, 2015 [5 favorites]


If you don't want to be "interested in money" after college, wouldn't you want to go to a school that is similarly uninterested in your money? I can see getting a scholarship or going to a state school to pick up something that isn't necessarily going to net me financial gains, but if I'm shelling out big money and going into debt for an education, there better be a financial payoff on the other end, 'cause we don't all have trust funds and I would like to retire sometime before I die.
posted by indubitable at 12:11 PM on September 13, 2015 [5 favorites]


No one is claiming that the colleges exert a causal effect so that their students earn less, so why is this confusing or misleading? These are simply descriptive statistics of the data.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:12 PM on September 13, 2015


Important to note that this is salary of students receiving federal financial aid, not of all students.

I think it includes everyone who fills out the FAFSA, whether or not they received federal aid. Since a lot of schools require the FAFSA for internal aid decisions, this should capture a wider pool than just federal aid recipients, though obviously still missing a lot of people.
posted by Dip Flash at 12:19 PM on September 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


If you don't want to be "interested in money" after college, wouldn't you want to go to a school that is similarly uninterested in your money?

It's hard to remember, but 10 years ago was before the Great Recession. Eighteen year olds were 100% confident that if they got through college, they'd be fine... Not rich, but they'd be able to get a full time job with benefits whenever they wanted, that they'd never be homeless. You could major in sociology at a liberal arts school, get random nonprofit job that pays 40k, do good for the world, and be able to pay your bills. Everything changed dramatically in 2008 and young people now are far more concerned with finding a financially stable career path.
posted by miyabo at 12:22 PM on September 13, 2015 [18 favorites]


I remember in 2006 or 2007, an uncle advised me to take out as many student loans as I possibly could, even if I didn't need them, because the interest rates were so low it was basically free money!
posted by theodolite at 12:26 PM on September 13, 2015 [7 favorites]


why is this confusing or misleading? These are simply descriptive statistics of the data.

Because when you make it easy to compare two things on a single scale, it's easy to assume there's a single cause-and-effect thing going on that accounts for performance on that scale, and it can artificially inflate the importance of the scaled variable on people's choices. Make it easy to compare things on price and insignificant differences in price take on outsized importance - like, Widget A costs $3 and Widget B costs $3.05, my choice is clear. Especially if you make it easy to sort the schools by these parameters, I think it's easy to elide the "will I do better in my own career path, or is this average salary difference caused by something that will be irrelevant to my own salary?" question.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:32 PM on September 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


If you don't want to be "interested in money" after college, wouldn't you want to go to a school that is similarly uninterested in your money?
Not necessarily. If your parents are rich enough, then the cost of college may not be an issue for you. And a lot of very expensive, very prestigious colleges also have excellent financial aid. If you're from a low-income family and you get into Harvard, you will be able to go there without taking out a penny in loans. If you know that you want to do something that doesn't pay well, you're better off going to Harvard, where you're guaranteed a full ride scholarship, than your state school, where you're probably not.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:33 PM on September 13, 2015 [6 favorites]


I went to a small private single-sex school and, just as a rough estimate, 60-70% of the people I knew went into non-profits and/or grad school after college. This has been the cycle for pretty much the college's entire history, so I'm not sure it's a huge surprise to anyone.

(Most students filled out the FAFSA because of eligibility for work study, even students who were eligible for little or no additional aid. That can include families with a six-figure income, but I don't know how the numbers will be impacted by increasing numbers of international students-- it would be interesting to know that information as well. How would they get salary information on people who filled out the FAFSA but didn't have ongoing loans, though?)
posted by jetlagaddict at 12:41 PM on September 13, 2015


Yeah, looking at some schools I know, colleges that graduate a lot of people who will be schoolteachers get hit hard in the average salary on this.

If you're just looking at the percentage below $25,000, though, that's well below the average starting teacher's salary in the US. Even if you break it down by state, all 50 start teachers at above $25,000 on average.
posted by Huck500 at 12:45 PM on September 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


I remember in 2006 or 2007, an uncle advised me to take out as many student loans as I possibly could, even if I didn't need them, because the interest rates were so low it was basically free money!

Searching for the phrase "good debt" on ask.metafilter.com brings that out -- in 2009 and before, people use it unironically in their answers, but after that the phrase shows up more ruefully and critically.
posted by Dip Flash at 1:06 PM on September 13, 2015 [10 favorites]


There are relatively few schools that actually give mythic "full-ride scholarships." Even if you're from a low-income family, at the most prestigious schools, the competition for those scholarships is fierce, so if you're low-income and jump the hurdles academically, your chances of getting into Harvard or Stanford and getting a full ride are lower than they would be if you went somewhere with less prestige.

This new University of Michigan scholarship, for instance, promises a "full ride" but if you look at the fine print it's still basically just covering tuition and fees; housing, books, food, etc., are your own responsibility, and in most cases, that means -- you guessed it -- student loans/work-study.
posted by blucevalo at 1:15 PM on September 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


There are relatively few schools that actually give mythic "full-ride scholarships." Even if you're from a low-income family, at the most prestigious schools, the competition for those scholarships is fierce, so if you're low-income and jump the hurdles academically, your chances of getting into Harvard or Stanford and getting a full ride are lower than they would be if you went somewhere with less prestige.
No matter who you are, unless you're a legacy or go to one of a tiny number of elite private schools, your chances of getting into Harvard or Stanford are minute. If a low-income student does get in, their chances of getting a full ride are 100%. Harvard and Stanford both expect no contribution from kids from families making less than $65,000 a year. Their tuition, room and board are all free.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 2:12 PM on September 13, 2015 [12 favorites]


I don't think the grad school theory works. Plenty of schools that do very well send many undergrads on to pursue graduate degrees.
posted by Justinian at 2:22 PM on September 13, 2015


In case you don't believe me, here are the numbers from the Feds. 3% of Harvard graduates receive Federal loans. For that 3%, the average amount of debt is $6,000. 10% of students come from families that make below $40,000 a year. So most students who come from those families are graduating with no debt. Stanford is a little worse: 13% of their students graduate with debt, and the average amount is $12,000. 16% of their students come from households making less than $40,000 a year. They're still doing better than many, many less-prestigious schools. At Gettysburg College, for instance, 55% of students graduate with debt, averaging $22,000. 14% of their students come from families earning less than $40,000 a year.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 2:22 PM on September 13, 2015 [6 favorites]


The technical paper is available here: https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/data/

To clarify a few things, the data on income is for students who received federal student loans and Pell grants (not everyone who used FAFSA). The income data is only for people not currently enrolled full time (they did their best to remove students in graduate programs). The data is for everyone who attended the program ten years ago, not just graduates. There is a section about inferring causation from institution on student success, so the idea that these are just "descriptive statistics" is naive. Income is calculated as the sum of W2 earnings and self reported income (schedule SE).

Having said all that, these numbers don't pass the smell test. A quarter of Bennington students who had Title IV support earn less than $10k per year ten years down the road? That just screams of some form of trust fund related shenanigans that the data is inadvertently capturing - obviously any income distributed from a trust fund wouldn't appear on a W-2, the question is why those students were eligible for federal support in the first place. I'm not saying that explains everything, I'm saying these big data exercises always have unintended effects. While the technical paper tries to downplay it, there's no way you can look at the results for a place like Bennington and say "yeah, that seems to capture the reality of attending that college."
posted by one_bean at 2:48 PM on September 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


It's hard to remember, but 10 years ago was before the Great Recession. Eighteen year olds were 100% confident that if they got through college, they'd be fine [...] You could major in sociology at a liberal arts school, get random nonprofit job that pays 40k, do good for the world, and be able to pay your bills.

Eh, 10 years ago, entry-level nonprofit salaries were more in the mid-to-high twenties, but otherwise, you're right on. I graduated from college in the very early 2000s and I actually turned down two different jobs in my field in the months right after (don't worry, the recession eventually taught me plenty of humility)

I see a lot of people here (not just in this thread, but on Metafilter in general) talking about all the upper class people who go into nonprofits, but from my experience (going to one of those small liberal arts schools and then working in nonprofits), there are rich kids, but most of the people I know on that path 10-15 years on are from solidly middle-class backgrounds. Which makes sense: people tend to (or did, before the economy got crazy) stay in the same general class as their parents. And working in the non-profit sector is solidly middle-class.

I think what is far more common in the small-liberal-arts-college/non-profit world is that the upperclass kids will start out in that world but eventually go to business school/law school/consulting/med school and get funneled into a more upper-class profession. Not always, but often. I think the one exception I've seen is super, super-wealthy people (like, WASP old-money) whose wealth doesn't come from their salary and tend to do the multiple-cool-fellowships/internships/grad programs thing for a while and then settle into a foundation or do some sort of "social enterprise startup."
posted by lunasol at 3:15 PM on September 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


At Bennington College in Vermont, over 48 percent of former students were earning less than $25,000 per year

That's probably because they majored in Manchurian Folk Dancing or something.
posted by jonmc at 4:01 PM on September 13, 2015


I remember in 2006 or 2007, an uncle advised me to take out as many student loans as I possibly could, even if I didn't need them, because the interest rates were so low it was basically free money!

Yeah, I remember one of my roommates (ca. 2003 or thereabouts) thought I was a chump for not taking out a student loan to buy myself a new computer. "The interest rate's so low, it's like they're paying you to buy a computer!"
posted by pie ninja at 4:02 PM on September 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is weird to me because it's like, yeah, of course this is a generation of people earning $25k years after having finished college. Why would this be any different at private schools? But looking back, yeah, lots of my friends who went to private schools are in this same boat, especially people who didn't get finance/engineering/CS kinds of degrees, and... well, at the time, yes, I think we all did really think that going to the fancy school was going to mean that even if you just wanted to be at teacher, you were going to end up a more highly-compensated teacher than the person who went to the local state school. But that's not really how it works. The upper class people with connections do get better jobs with those "I don't care about money" degrees like social work and education, but it's not purely a function of attending the right schools. Going to that school doesn't help your income if you don't know the right people.

That doesn't make them bad schools at all, but I do hope that current and future generations of students are a little less naive about these things when they start.
posted by Sequence at 4:04 PM on September 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Something like this tool is sorely needed to help students avoid the truly terrible for-profit schools out there. I don't think that this tool is meant to influence students between schools that have an average graduate salary of $41,000 vs. $42,000. I think it will allow students to avoid schools that cost over $40,000 per year and on the average produce job outcomes that pay less than that average yearly cost of college. As an example, there is a school near me called Cleveland University-Kansas City. It's a tiny school (66 undergrads). The average yearly tuition cost is $38,183. On average, grads are making $37,800 per year. Maybe there is something special about Cleveland University; point is, if they're one of the predatory for-profit schools, this scorecard will help students reconsider whether they actually want to go there.

The methodology is imperfect, but it's better than the alternative. the dearth of information and guidance out there is why Everest College and its ilk are able to fleece students and the government for billions of dollars a year. I'm sure there will be arguments that students should not look at college as solely a vehicle to get a job after graduation. With the current system of out of control increases in higher ed costs, I vehemently disagree. Paying over $40,000 per year to get a classic liberal arts education with no real mind to future job prospects is the height of irresponsibility. Not to mention that the loan payments can be ruinous if you don't have a job that will allow for you to make enough for repayments. The days of going to college as a lark are over.

This tool is a start. I'm almost certain that it will be improved. Kind of like health insurance after the ACA.
posted by reenum at 4:06 PM on September 13, 2015 [5 favorites]


I'm sure there will be arguments that students should not look at college as solely a vehicle to get a job after graduation.

At that point we've pretty much lost the plot. You might as well borrow $100K on student loans, head to Vegas and put it all on red to get the same effect.
posted by Talez at 4:47 PM on September 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


The idea that the Great Recession somehow changed the economic benefit of college is garbage. College graduates were those least affected by the Great Recession. Among those 20 to 24, a bachelors degree helped mitigate the economic damage suffered.

Everyone was harmed by the Great Recession. Everyone will feel lasting damage to their lifetime earnings, and those youngest will feel that most acutely. But blaming the Great Recession on the promise of the American Dream is basically refusing to acknowledge the class bias implicit in that statement, and refusing to acknowledge that those without the advantage of college were hurt worse.

From a recent paper at the BPEA: "default rates among borrowers attending most 4-year public and non-profit private institutions and graduate borrowers—borrowers who represent the vast majority of the federal loan portfolio—have remained low, despite the severe recession and their relatively high loan balances. Their higher earnings, low rates of unemployment, and greater family resources appear to have enabled them to avoid adverse loan outcomes even during times of hardship"

The stagnation happening in America is not that college graduates are doing worse than their parents. It's that white people are dying off, and we're more acutely seeing the economic damage that we've foisted onto people of color and lower income folks. When we talk about how great it was in the sixties, we're also talking about how great it was for white men to benefit due to racial (and gender) bias creating a fake labor shortage.

That doesn't mean higher education doesn't have serious problems with it. But the student loan crisis is being driven by predatory colleges and occupational licensing scams. Beauty schools guarantee low wages.. There's nothing wrong with choosing a low wage career. But the cost of training should absolutely be commensurate with expected earnings.
posted by politikitty at 6:26 PM on September 13, 2015 [8 favorites]


Related, from the New Yorker, September 7, 2015: "What is College Worth?" Between 2001 and 2013, the average wage of workers with a bachelor’s degree declined 10.3 percent, and the average wage of those with an associate’s degree declined 11.1 percent,” the New York Fed reported in its study. Wages have been falling most steeply of all among newly minted college graduates. And jobless rates have been rising. In 2007, 5.5 per cent of college graduates under the age of twenty-five were out of work. Today, the figure is close to nine per cent. If getting a bachelor’s degree is meant to guarantee entry to an arena in which jobs are plentiful and wages rise steadily, the education system has been failing for some time.
posted by Violet Hour at 6:52 PM on September 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


I am so pleased that they seemed to use median and average where appropriate! Such a rare quality these days.
posted by LizBoBiz at 7:06 AM on September 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is NRO, so I'm sharing it cautiously but it does seem to make some good points:
"As usual, the policy-making class worries most about the people who most closely resemble it socially and economically. But the report finds that the people coming out of selective schools have an average loan debt at graduation of only $23,000, while their degrees provide an average annual wage premium of $20,000. “For most people who graduate from top-tier schools,” Dynarski writes, “debt is easily managed.”"

"The Left’s answer to the challenge of targeting our expenditures toward those Americans who most need them is to subsidize another round of loans, which will pass through Little Moonbeam on their way to her $150,000-a-year women’s-studies professor and the university’s $800,000-a-year president. That’ll show those rich people!"
I don't think the NRO understands the salaries in women's studies (much lower), or university presidents (ha! so much higher!) for that matter, but the basic point applies.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:36 AM on September 14, 2015


I do wish they wouldn't compare after-graduation salaries to just average pay. It's not like it would be mind-bendingly difficult to assign each each student the average income for people from their demographic backgrounds who didn't go to college, so you'd end up comparing students at XX County Community College to a different batch of kids than the ones who went to Harvard.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:20 AM on September 14, 2015


Sounds like you want a value-added analysis like this one from Brookings. The analysis of the two highest ranking schools, CalTech and Colgate, on page 16 is quite fascinating.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:35 AM on September 14, 2015


relatively few schools that actually give mythic "full-ride scholarships."

Hello, friends! There's a few of us on here.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:07 AM on September 14, 2015


Sounds like you want a value-added analysis like this one from Brookings.

Yeah, though I'd trust the DoEd more than Brookings to generate one.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:19 AM on September 14, 2015


The problem is that the dancers and poets are paying the same, ever-rising tuition, even though the necessary cost of running a good poetry program is probably not much more than it was in earlier times when college tuition was much less expensive than it is today.

I immediately thought of Baumol's cost disease.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:41 AM on September 14, 2015 [2 favorites]




Yeah, though I'd trust the DoEd more than Brookings to generate one.

This is an interesting problem that I can actually give some insight into. (Though I'd guess you see this pretty clearly too.) The reason the Education Department can't do the very most important analyses is because of politics: they can't risk drawing conclusions clearly, which is the same reason GAO reports are written in the obfuscating way that they are. So while you'd think that they'd be less biased than Brookings or Cato, they're actually forced to stop short of drawing the very conclusions we most want because they are partially captured by the industry they are trying to regulate.

In this case, I think it's also prevented them from supplying the data we'd want to do the analysis ourselves at the cohort/demographic level.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:40 AM on September 14, 2015


I actually think the most valuable statistic here is about graduation rates. I work with a lot of first generation college students. And I think it's really important to be able to show them that there are some schools that are going to do a much better job than others of supporting them so that they actually get their degrees, rather than leaving them with half an associate's degree and five figures worth of loans.
posted by decathecting at 5:35 PM on September 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


I think it's really important to be able to show them that there are some schools that are going to do a much better job than others of supporting them so that they actually get their degrees, rather than leaving them with half an associate's degree and five figures worth of loans.

One of the most important things about the new statistics is that they capture all matriculating students instead of just graduates! I have taught at a place with sub-40% graduation rates, and it's just horrible to contemplate the consequences of the grades I had to give, sometimes. The admissions office was doing students a terrible disservice.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:36 AM on September 15, 2015


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