Monday, February 11, 2013

Push to Gauge Value of College Gains Steam

We'll be seeing more of this, especially since continued high unemployment rates leave recent graduates with woefully diminished chances.

At the Wall Street Journal, "Cost of College: Push to Gauge Bang for Buck from College Gains Steam":
U.S. and state officials are intensifying efforts to hold colleges accountable for what happens after graduation, a sign of frustration with sky-high tuition costs and student-loan debt.

Sens. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.) and Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) are expected to reintroduce this week legislation that would require states to make more accessible the average salaries of colleges' graduates. The figures could help prospective students compare salaries by college and major to assess the best return on their investment.

A similar bipartisan bill died last year, but a renewed push has gained political momentum in recent weeks. "This begins to introduce some market forces into the academic arena that have not been there," said Mr. Wyden, adding that support for the move is unusually broad given the political divide in Washington. Rep. Eric Cantor (R., Va.), the House majority leader, said he intends to support a similar measure in the House.

High-school seniors now trying to decide which college to attend next fall are awash with information about costs, from dorm rooms to meal plans. But there is almost no easy way to tell what graduates at specific schools earn—or how many found jobs in their chosen field. Supporters say more transparency is needed as students graduate deeper in debt and enter the rocky job market.

The Wyden-Rubio bill doesn't spell out exactly how this information has to be assembled. The goal is that students and parents could use the U.S. Department of Education website to query data from all 50 states. But the bill relies on states to knit together wage data submitted by employers with information on graduates submitted by colleges.

Virginia, which recently began publishing wages by colleges and program on its own, linked these two data sets using Social Security numbers. It didn't publish the Social Security numbers.

Some colleges are resisting the broader push, saying it would be a burden for states to compile the information, and that it would tell students little they don't know already.

"You don't need a database to tell you that people who major in fine arts won't earn a lot of money when they graduate," said Terry Hartle, senior vice president for government and public affairs at the American Council on Education, a trade group that hasn't taken a position on the bill by Messrs. Wyden and Rubio. Some officials worry that salary is too narrow a measure of the value of a liberal-arts education.

Privacy advocates have concerns with compiling so much data. One potential issue, they say, is that the data could be sliced so thinly that it would reveal information about individuals. "It's the risk of re-identification in small samples," says Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, D.C.

Still, Bryce Harrison, who graduated last May from Goucher College, a private school in Baltimore, said wage data could have helped him pick his major. Mr. Harrison, 23 years old, hoped his political-science degree would land him a job with the government.

He has had no luck. With about $100,000 in student loans to repay, Mr. Harrison spent the summer working for his father, power-washing houses. But business slows in the winter, so he is now unemployed and is considering joining the National Guard.

"Was college worth getting in the amount of debt I'm in?" he asks. "At this point, I can't answer that."
Pro Tip: Don't take out unsustainable student loans for an undergraduate degree, to say nothing of graduate or law school. Work your way through college even if it takes longer to complete. It can be done. Avoid the maw of the student loan/student scam industry. This debt can't be wiped out by bankruptcy. Some people are immediately indebted for life.