The federal government's new college information website highlights earnings gaps among schools' alumni, Kevin Carey, director of New America's education policy program, writes for the New York Times' "The Upshot."
By pairing federal tax return and federal student financial aid data, the Department of Education calculated the salaries of colleges' alumni 10 years after they enrolled in 2001 and 2002.
"Elite institutions prop up the overall average earnings of college graduates nationwide," Carey writes. But at certain schools, alumni's earnings "are bleak."
At hundreds of institutions, less than half of students earn more than $25,000, the typical high school graduate salary. For example, more than 48% of Bennington College alumni earned less than $25,000 per year a decade after they enrolled, and about 25% made less than $10,600.
Other schools leave students with more debt: at the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) students graduate with about 30% less debt than do Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) students. Meanwhile, UCLA students who started in 2001 and 2002 earn approximately 30% more than their peers from Penn State.
Additionally, every top university had an earnings gap between male and female graduates, though the size of the gap varied. Men who graduated from Duke University earned $29,900 more than their female peers; at Princeton University, male alums earn $47,700 more than female.
Carey acknowledges that trying to define higher education success in purely economic terms is impossible—schools also teach students to be better humans and citizens.
"The world needs dancers and poets along with the future investment bankers and tech entrepreneurs streaming out of elite schools," he writes.
However, he says, "the problem is that the dancers and poets are paying the same, ever-rising tuition, even though the necessary cost of running a good poetry program is probably not much more than it was in earlier times."
The solution, according to Carey, rests in need-based financial aid that allows low-income students to take on less debt and decreases their chances of defaulting on loans (Carey, "The Upshot," New York Times, 9/13).
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