Maximizing the Higher Ed Payoff for All

global computer technology conceptThe US News and World Report just published its annual rankings of colleges and universities.  As expected the Ivy’s top the list. Princeton, Harvard, Yale and Columbia nail down the ranking for the east coast schools and Stanford holds the title for the west coast.  For the top 10, the tuition and fees range from $41K to $51K per year. Does that reputation and expensive tuition really bring you the financial rewards? 

To answer that question I went to one of my favorite sites on this issue, Although they have been providing the data for years, only of late has the full impact of the work been highlighted. Recently they provided some updated information on starting salaries by school.  It was discovered that the top colleges according to rankings like those of US News do not correlate well with starting salaries.

highest starting salaries

Top entering salary earners come from places like Harvey Mudd, US Naval Academy, West Point, MIT, etc.  The chart below comes from the US News site.   As you can see it appears that skills in engineering and technical fields offer the highest starting salaries.

salaries 10 years later

Looking at salaries 10 years later, the top ten salaries for institutions are shown below. Here you see some of the US News Top Ten making the list, but some of the list remains the same. US Naval Academy, M.I.T, Harvey Mudd, West Point, and Cal Tech remain on the top ten list and new schools appear.  Some of the Ivy’s catch up. You should read the full article to investigate more than the top 10 and get a more thorough understanding of the situation.

Majors Matter

Based on this information, deciding where you should go to school would be relatively easy if your goal is to maximize salary. However, the major you select influences your salary as well. Here Pay Scale offers more information.  At their site you can look at how schools compare by majors such as arts majors, business majors, computer science majors, and others.

Georgetown University’s Center for Education and the Workforce offers a comparison of majors against other majors regardless of school attended. The Report, What It’s Worth, also shows the relative payoff of earning a graduate degree in the field.  In some fields the salary payoff is differentially greater only when a graduate degree is earned. 

Focus on Technical Skills

Some think that a college degree is not nirvana nor should it be the goal for all individuals. The former Clinton administration labor secretary, Robert Reich, believes that we are putting way too much emphasis on the college degree and not enough on educating people in the technical skills provided largely through community colleges. Specifically he says “Too often in modern America, we equate “equal opportunity” with an opportunity to get a four-year liberal arts degree. It should mean an opportunity to learn what’s necessary to get a good job.” He would like to see a policy change that focuses more resources on community college programs that supports employer needs. 

Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, along with several other senators, have introduce a bill called the Middle STEP Act which would provide funding for pilot programs that offer career exploration at the middle school level promoting hands on learning and career exploration of  careers related to career and technical education (CTE).

Career Practitioners Matter

Where should I to go to school, what should I major in, where can I afford to go, will I get a job in my area of study, how large will be my student loan debt, how much will I earn, who will employ me, will I be able to grow in my profession, are all questions that need answers in the career decision making process. For parents and students all this is very confusing, but making the right choice is important. That is why school counselors, career coaches, counselors, and academic advisors have an obligation to be absolutely on top of this ever-changing information in order to help our students and clients make conscious and informed choices about their futures.

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Related Articles

How the US News and World Report Calculated the Ratings

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Where to Go to College if You Want the Highest Starting Salary


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