Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

What's a Degree Worth? Colleges Pushed to Disclose Grad Wages

Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

What's a Degree Worth? Colleges Pushed to Disclose Grad Wages

Article excerpt

Willi so many college graduates struggling to find jobs and pay off school loans, it should come as no surprise that questions are being raised about the value of a degree. As parents and students express doubts about the return on their investment in higher education, policymakers are pushing colleges to disclose what their graduates earn. The movement has picked up so much momentum thai members of Congress and advocacy groups such as College Measures have become increasingly vocal hi pressuring the higher education sector to share earnings data by degree, major and institution.

"Students are entitled to know die value of thai r education before they go out and borrow tens of thousands of dollars from the bank and the government to pay for it," said U.S. Sen Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who has introduced legislation requiring colleges to share annual earnings and average student debt.

Even President Obama jumped on the bandwagon during his State of the Union address when he announced the development of the administration's College Scorecard website to enable consumers to analyze colleges for value and affordability. The site posts key indicators such as price, average loan debt, default rates and graduate salary information. Hie president said it was part of his promise "to help parents and students compare schools based on a simple criteria- where you can get the most bang for your education buck?"

This information could be quite valuable to first-generation and minority students, especially Hispanics who are earning an ever-growing share of college degrees. Latinos are the largest minority on college campuses, and they also borrow an average of 32 percent of college costs. As tuition rises and related debt levels mount, critics say students and families need more data besides cost on which to base their college-going decisions. Analysts have pointed out that the days when students could just pursue their interests without regard for employability are probably gone by the wayside.

And there is no guarantee that a college degree will lead to a job.

During the recession, the unemployment rate for college grads ages 20-24 rose to its highest level since 1970, hitting 12.1 percent in June 2011, according to the U.S. Rureau of Labor Statistics. The cuiTent rate of unemployment for diat same group is approximately 8 percent.

When they do find work, many graduates end up in positions that don't require a degree. A recent New York Times front-page headline, "It takes a B.S. to find a Job as a File Clerk," suggested a college degree has become the new high school diploma, meaning it is the minimum requirement for getting even a low-level job. The article interviewed several college-educated young workers who were employed as receptionists, office assistants, car rental agents and other positions in which much of the job is rote office work. In other words, they are ovcrqualified for their jobs, a trend labeled "up-credentialing." According to the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, about 48 percent of employed U.S. college graduates are in jobs that require less than a four-year college education.

No one is suggesting that students forego college or that college graduates won't earn more money over the course of a lifetime. The fact is that college is sdii the best way to achieve financial success. However, many believe it is important for students to look at majors they are interested in and dien compare them with job availability and pay levels.

Dr. Mark Schneider, president of College Measures, has been working with several states that already have published earnings data. He believes this type of consumer-oriented effort will be very helpful as students and parents make higher education choices.

"Higher education pays, but so does die suident," he said. "We have to make sure there is a balance between what the student is paying and what the payoff they get for this education is. …

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