Monday, September 16, 2013

Measuring Graduate Earnings

I'll second Matt Bush on the problems with trying to measure the financial earnings of institutions' graduates:
I’ll give you an easy one. Sarah graduates from her local community college, and transfers to a nearby four-year college. She subsequently graduates from the four-year college and goes on to medical school. She spends a few years in residency, then gets a high-paying job as a physician.
At what point do we count her earnings? And who gets credit for them?
The standard measure is looking at starting salaries right out of college. But Sarah’s salary right out of community college, and even right out of her four-year school, was zero. We could include the zero, but it would be deeply misleading. Or we could exclude Sarah, but that would be misleading, too; if not for the start she got at the community college, she would not have been able to land her physician job. By excluding Sarah and others like her, we wind up with an artificially low figure for community college grads.  And in this political climate, that’s the kind of figure for which a college is punished.
The problems with measuring this seem all but impossible to surmount, unless you limit the pool of people measured to those who take out student loans and somehow tie data collection to the period in which they pay off said loans.  Otherwise, institutions have no way to get alumni to tell them their salaries.  This, of course, is in addition to the other problems Bush mentions.



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