Does a Degree From a Respected School Mean Good Money?

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Schools that produce a large number of graduates in high-earning fields are often prestigious, but not all prestigious schools produce high earners.

Two new rankings of American colleges are out. One of them, from U.S. News & Report, judges schools by criteria ranging from class size to acceptance and graduation rates.

The other ranking, from PayScale, focuses on money — how much graduates from certain schools make. Are the results linked?

In a comparison of the two lists, The New York Times says yes. “There’s a fairly high correlation between the reputation and selectivity-weighted rankings of U.S. News and the future earnings measures of PayScale,” the Times says. But there are surprises, too. For instance:

  • A degree from a prestigious liberal arts school doesn’t mean lots of money. Grinnell, ranked No. 17 on the U.S. News list of liberal arts colleges, ranks No. 366 on PayScale’s list of mid-career median salaries.
  • Women’s colleges that rank high on the U.S. News list rank similarly low on PayScale’s because the schools produce few graduates in high-paying fields such as engineering and technology.
  • “Elon University, ranked by U.S. News as the No. 1 regional university in the South, is a distant 587 on PayScale’s list,” the Times says.
  • Engineering schools generally rank high on both lists, but not always. The Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Ind., ranks No. 20 on PayScale’s, but was unranked by U.S. News. (However, it was No. 1 in a separate ranking of undergraduate engineering programs at schools that don’t offer a doctorate.)

U.S. News told the Times it doesn’t factor in post-graduation income because there aren’t enough data.

PayScale, meanwhile, uses data from 1.4 million college graduates. But it says pay isn’t the only measure schools should be judged by — just an important one.

“Jobs are harder and harder to come by, student debt is huge, and the costs of schools are rising faster than inflation,” economist Katie Bardaro, who worked on PayScale’s survey, told the Times.

Do you think a comprehensive college ranking should include earnings? Do you put any stock in college rankings to begin with? Let us know your thoughts on Facebook.

Stacy Johnson

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