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Your College Search Toolbox: Yet Another New Measure For Sizing Up A School

Tom LeCompte: "What used to be a fairly straightforward process has become a maddeningly complex, competitive and high-stakes venture." (Jeff Sheldon/Unsplash)
Tom LeCompte: "What used to be a fairly straightforward process has become a maddeningly complex, competitive and high-stakes venture." (Jeff Sheldon/Unsplash)
This article is more than 3 years old.

It’s an old refrain among those of us who went to college 20 or 30 years ago that, today, we could never get into the college we attended. And statistically, that’s true. When I applied to Yale in 1976, there were some 9,000 applicants for 1,300 positions. Today, there are more than 30,000 applicants. In 1977, the tuition, room and board was about $7,000 per year. Today it’s more than $63,000.

What used to be a fairly straightforward process has become a maddeningly complex, competitive and high-stakes venture.

It’s an old refrain among those of us who went to college 20 or 30 years ago that, today, we could never get into the college we attended. And statistically, that’s true.

To the morass of information that college applicants and their anxious parents have to sift through this season, add the recently-released Department of Education college scorecard. Offering a different take on traditional “best of…” surveys, the scorecard combines information from the IRS, Treasury and the Department of Education into a searchable database. Prospective applicants can search schools by geographic area and compare them according to various criteria, including school size, average annual cost, typical student debt load, graduation rate, student diversity and SAT scores.

Among the more interesting numbers that pops up in every scorecard school profile is the average salary of graduates in their first decade after graduation, a useful metric when gauging the value and of the school and the ability of students to pay down the debt accumulated.

For New England institutions, in terms of average salary after graduation, the usual suspects scored high. The Ivies: Harvard ($87,200), Yale ($66,000) Dartmouth ($67,100) and Brown ($59,700). The technical schools: MIT ($91,600), Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences ($116,400), Worcester Polytechnical ($77,600) and Mass. Maritime ($79,500). And specialized private colleges, such as Babson ($85,500), with its business and entrepreneurial program, and Northeastern ($60,100), with its cooperative program.

The major state universities in New England did, well, fair, with graduates earning above the national average of $34,343. The database doesn’t, however, take into account the differences in the cost-of-living from region to region.

There are a few surprises within the database. It turns out that schools that are tougher to get into do not necessarily correlate to higher earnings potential. For example, Tufts University in Medford, with an acceptance rate of just 17 percent, did slightly worse in terms of earnings than Fairfield University in Connecticut, which accepts 71 percent of applicants ($69,000 versus $67,800). And graduates at highly selective all-women colleges, such as Smith ($42,700), Wellesley ($56,700) and Mount Holyoke ($44,100), can expect to earn significantly less than their colleagues at equally selective co-ed schools—a difference that may reflect the continuing gender gap in workplace pay.

Graduates of the renowned Berklee College of Music can expect to earn only $30,300 within a decade of graduating — a statement about the sorry state of the music business, I suppose. Graduates of Emerson College, the predominantly arts, media and communications school, do only slightly better, at $44,800.

It turns out that schools that are tougher to get into do not necessarily correlate to higher earnings potential.

Of course, these numbers mean nothing by themselves. The scorecard says little about the school, its programs, its student body, life on campus or the overall satisfaction of students who attend. For that, you’d have to turn to one of the dozens of other surveys available, such as the Princeton Review, U.S. News and World Report or Kiplinger's. It’s a lot of information.

But the one number on the scorecard that stands out above the rest is $1 million, highlighted right on the scorecard's homepage. That is how much more, on average, college graduates earn over their lifetimes compared with high school graduates. It’s a number backed up by study after study, showing that a college degree is a worthy investment financially. So with that in mind, study up.

Related:

Tom LeCompte Cognoscenti contributor
Tom LeCompte is a freelance writer in Boston.

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