Andrew Gillen at the Texas Public Policy Foundation says “Two Tsunamis are About to Hit Higher Education,” when :..the Department of Education released post graduate earnings and debt data broken down by college program — which will have a revolutionary impact on higher education.”
A bit of poking around on the web gets you to the TPPF webpage College Earnings and Debt, which ranks hundreds of degree programs by median student debt and after-graduation income. It’s a nice interactive database, where you can compare programs among multiple colleges, or for a single college.
GIllen touts this information (he calls it the Gainful Employment Equivalent) as a game-changer for selecting college degree programs.
For years we’ve asked students to make one of life’s most important decisions essentially blindfolded. We’ve told them a college degree is the surest path to success but have given them little guidance on where to go to college or what major to choose once they get there. As a result, too many students leave with a mountain of debt and a credential that isn’t worth much on the labor market. The new data will help equip students — and their parents — with the information necessary to avoid these costly mistakes in several ways.
…the data will help students avoid risky programs within generally non-risky fields or colleges. Of the universities in the top 5 of the US News and World report college rankings, Harvard and Yale both had one program fail, and Columbia has 10 programs that fail. Helping students avoid these financial bad apples will help all students by keeping the pressure on individual academic programs, not allowing them to coast on a college’s (or field’s) reputation.
Hey, the data is impressive, but don’t expect revolutionary change in our established preschool-to-penury pipeline. The institutional inertia and 20th Century received wisdom that A College Degree Equals Success will pooh-pooh the idea of value shopping for a college degree.
Methodologically, the database has some glaring deficiencies, some of which will be remedied over time, as more data becomes available*:
- it’s only one year’s worth of data*
- it’s based solely on students who received federal financial aid*
- some degree programs have zero information*
- the statistics presented (median debt and debt-to-earnings ratio) are presented without any error estimates, rendering the summaries a bit sketchy. Hey TPPF hackers, can you spell b-o-o-t-s-t-r-a-p?
Still, this is great first effort, and I look forward to refinements in the GEE summaries. But don’t expect a tsunami.
Tip from the Instapundit, where most commenters respond with variations of “Well, duh.”