Salary: Only One Measure of A College’s Worth

“To get a good job,” is an oft heard reason why a student is headed to college, usually stated while their parents nod vigorously in the background.  A recent New York Times article–New Metric for Colleges: Graduates’ Salaries--discusses the merits of using a college graduate’s average earnings as a measure of a campus’ value, which is further illuminated with our decade of experience.

While job training is one responsibility of colleges, as we discussed in an earlier post, the increasing costs of college and the average debt both students and parents assume to pay for the degree can reduce average salary gains.  Since debt is future earnings brought forward, and graduates with high paying jobs in expanding industries will more likely be more capable of paying back loans, then campus choice based on salary is valuable information.  However, when considering a college, other criteria, like average graduation rate within four years, can help students predict the total cost of a college education to prepare for future stable careers.

The New York Times article discussed on the recently released rankings:

It ranks over a thousand institutions by the average earnings of their graduates. It also calculates and ranks the average return on investment for a college and the percentage of graduates holding jobs with “high meaning.”

Seeking an indication of future wealth is reasonable, given the investment that families expect to make..  Generally, teens don’t intend to live with mom and dad after graduation, and mom and dad share a similar expectation. (Although, more and more young adults are living at home into their 30’s, as we posted here and here, as well as may not experience a higher standard of living as their parents.)   At the same time, education may also be intended for further maturing as a responsible adult, which may also add to future prosperity–communication, collaboration, a sense of self and life purpose.

Andrew Delbanco, director of American studies at Columbia University (PayScale, 54) and author of “College, What Was, Is, and Should Be,” said: “It’s understandable and entirely legitimate that students and families are worrying about the ‘return’ on their investment in college — especially as tuition continues to rise too high and too fast. But there are lots of troubling questions that follow. Should returns in dollars be the only measure of educational value? What does that say about the traditional mission of college to educate young people for engaged citizenship, and to provide opportunities for self-fulfillment in ways that do not necessarily line up with income and status?”

Measuring value can be tricky. Dollars and future earnings are one measurement, but as my momma used to tell me, “Money isn’t everything.”  So, how can a ranking system measure “self-fulfillment” and “engaged citizenship”?  And, who is that to say a Harvard grad has greater “engaged citizenship” than a State U. grad who was the first in their family ever to graduate from college? The valuing of outcome, even after the outcome has occurred, like I wrote about graduating from Harvard, can continue to unfold, long after a decision to enroll has been made.

Professor [Mark] Edmundson is author of the recent book “Why Teach? In Defense of a Real Education,” which argues that education should transform students by challenging and expanding their conceptions of themselves. “Self-realization doesn’t just mean sitting around discussing Plato and Socrates,” he said. “It means figuring out what job or profession would I be best at and what I would enjoy. Too many people are just aiming for a high salary. They struggle through college, they don’t like their classes, they don’t like their job and they end up failing. If they had taken the time to discover themselves, they might have ended up happy and prosperous.”

Usually, concerned parents about their children’s job prospects will add that they also want their kids to be happy.  What does that happiness look like? Who’s to say that a stable career, where there’s food on the table every night and a roof over their heads, isn’t happiness?  At the same time, the emotional and spiritual well-being is a nebulous, yet detectible, known that can contribute to overall happiness.

“People are investing a lot of money in a four-year degree, in some cases $240,000, and they’re entitled to know what they can expect when they finish,” said [Robert Morse, director of data research for U.S. News, who is in charge of compiling the college rankings]. “But you have to be very careful how you analyze the data. Just because Harvey Mudd produces science, engineering and technology graduates who get high salaries, does that make it the best school in America? How do you value teaching and other fields valuable to society that aren’t paid nearly as much?”

Mr. Morse has a point.  While earnings may be one measurement of value, how can an individual quantify satisfaction? Is the fact that I originally earned a Masters degree from Harvard Graduate School of Education, which at the time was the top rated Education graduate school in the country, with a teaching credential, an indicator of dissatisfaction, since I technically don’t use that part of my degree any longer–even though I continued to “teach” without a classroom?  A salary may not tell the whole story.

“There’s a parental myth that at a certain point you can relax and enjoy your golden years if your child is settled and has a stable job in a profession that will bring them a high income. But the truth is, no one is ever settled, disasters can happen, institutions can collapse and even high-paying jobs go away.”  [Professor Mark Edmundson]

In the unpredictability of future, what experiences and skills will best serve an individual, both fiscally and otherwise, may not be the same for each person.  Money is a medium of exchange.  I earn x dollars, then exchange those same dollars for goods and services that I value.  What effort I do to earn those dollars must be valued by someone else, who will exchange their dollars for our Creative Marbles educational advising services–and so on for clients to earn their dollars… The effort put forth is what matters.  How much clients respond to the enthusiasm and thoroughness of Creative Marbles Consultancy’s knowledge and on-going research may be unquantifiable, but knowing that business grows year over year from clients referring us to friends and family, including referrals from friends of friends of family who never even experienced our services, can say a lot about our value.  That wasn’t ever a number I calculated when I chose UCSD in 1991 or Harvard in 1998.

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About Jill Yoshikawa, Ed M, Partner of Creative Marbles Consultancy

Jill Yoshikawa, EdM, Harvard ’99, a seasoned, 25 year educator and consultant, is meticulous in helping clients navigate all aspects of the educational experience, no matter the level of complexity. She combines educational theory with experience to advise families, schools and educators. A UCSD and Harvard graduate, as well as a former high school teacher, Jill works tirelessly to help her clients succeed.
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