Since the U.S. Department of Education added salary information in 2015 to its College Scorecard, earnings data is driving more college rankings. Critics say such lists are flawed and reduce an education to a dollar sign. Students (and their parents) want to know what they’re getting for an increasingly expensive investment.
The scorecard isn’t a perfect answer because it includes earnings data from only those who received financial aid. It also covers those who might spend one semester at a school, not just graduates. But it’s still informative, showing that 10 N.C. institutions can boast their students are earning, on average, at least $40,000 a year after a decade in the real world. Another 21 can point to salaries topping $35,000 annually. The scorecard also does not factor in how many students majored in higher-paying fields, though choice of subject clearly matters. Federal statistics show that students who attended N.C. State University, with a big engineering school, earn a third more after 10 years than those from Western Carolina University and UNC Greensboro, which are more focused on liberal arts.
The feds also now disclose the average annual cost for students who receive financial aid. The scorecard shows that several of the state’s private schools are keeping bills on par with their public counterparts. Many students at Davidson College, one of the nation’s most selective schools, pay less than $16,000 a year.
It’s smart to cross-reference these lists with those measuring graduation rates, loan repayment histories and whether students find their studies — and post-college jobs — to be meaningful. With all of the data, the homework list for colleges keeps getting longer.