A push to publicize graduates’ earnings

University colleges aren’t required to disclose graduates’ pay data publicly.

by Jack Parker

Most students attend college to get a job, but information on how that investment is likely to pay off hasn’t typically been available.

A bill introduced in Congress would require colleges to reveal graduates’ earnings, among other information. At the University of Minnesota, only some colleges release that data publicly.

Currently, colleges that receive federal funding already have to report similar information to the U.S. Department of Education, but they’re not required to make it public.

But more students are questioning the value of their college investment.

Of first-year students at the University in fall 2012, about 88 percent of students cited “to be able to get a better job” as a “very important” reason in deciding to go to college — an all-time high, according to University data.

This is up from about 75 percent in 2005.

The Student Right to Know Before You Go Act, introduced  by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., would require all colleges and universities to disclose the average cost of each program, students’ average accumulated debt and post-graduate earnings.

But focusing solely on post-graduate earnings, cost and debt may deter some college-bound students from pursuing lesser-paying jobs.

Economics freshman Logan Podbielski said he thinks students should evaluate whether a degree would financially make sense before attending college.

“I don’t mean to say you shouldn’t choose what you love, it just has to make sense,” Podbielski said. “College is just so expensive.”

The College of Science and Engineering currently makes average graduate earnings data available.

“It’s been something a lot of students ask about,” CSE career center director Mark Sorenson-Wagner said.

Job and earnings information are important recruitment tools often included in college and university rankings, Sorenson-Wagner said. Prospective students and future employers use this data to help guide their decisions, he said.

“When our students are negotiating job offers with companies, it’s good for them to have that kind of salary data so they can benchmark to see what is a fair or good offer,” Sorenson-Wagner said. “We get a lot of inquiries from businesses, too … because they want to make sure they’re making good offers so they can attract the best talent.”

Some colleges, like the College of Liberal Arts, find this type of data difficult to gather and interpret.

“I think, for us, the challenge is students go in so many directions with their careers,” said CLA career services director Paul Timmins. “It’s more a matter of what is their total package.”

He said the wide range of majors and careers that CLA graduates have make it hard to develop a firm benchmark when talking about post-graduate earnings.

“When we go through our data there is an incredible range in salaries … and it’s just because we have such a diverse collection of majors and such a diverse collection of students,” Timmins said.

Although that data is not published by CLA, Timmins said it’s “a piece of the puzzle” for students to understand their career choices.

“The more information we can get students about future career possibilities,” he said, “the better decisions they can make.”