There is a big move afoot in Congress to make salary information of college graduates more readily available to the public. The idea is to give students a realistic idea of how much they can expect to earn when they apply to a school that will cost them $100,000 or up in tuition and fees. “This begins to introduce some market forces into the academic arena that have not been there,” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, told the Wall Street Journal.
The idea enjoys bipartisan support. Increasing transparency is a priority of the Obama administration, and House Whip Eric Cantor, R-7th, says he intends to introduce a similar bill in the House. Now, here’s what’s really amazing: Virginia is the first state in the nation to make this data available. We’re ahead of everyone else!
Now that I’ve given our dear Old Dominion a pat on the back for being leader of the pack, let me introduce a word of caution. The WSJ issues some caveats : “The state data have shortcomings. Paychecks for the same job can vary widely by location. Salary data don’t reflect self-employed graduates or those who work for the U.S. government or move to another state.
It’s useful to know that you have a good shot at making more money if you graduate from George Mason University than any other public university in the state. But that information, by itself, is only of limited utility. If most GMU graduates stay in the Northern Virginia area, they might be making more… but their cost of living might be a whole lot higher. Also, graduates of the most recruited academic programs — take Virginia Tech’s engineering school, for instance — typically take jobs outside the state. If many of Tech’s best-compensated grads aren’t counted because they end up outside Virginia, the average earnings figure would be artificially depressed.
Despite the limitations, publishing the data takes us in the right direction. It makes college students better consumers of educational services and it puts college and university administrations on notice that people aren’t going to accept business as usual very much longer.