In a recent blog post, “Comparing Salaries for Graduates from Different Colleges”, I described the results of a study conducted by Colorado’s Department of Higher Education in collaboration with a company called College Matters. The study examined the starting salaries of nearly 62,000 graduates from two- and four-year colleges in Colorado.
On March 28, University of Colorado president Bruce Benson published a guest commentary in the Denver Post in which he derided the study as an inaccurate and incomplete measurement of the value of a college degree. Benson’s first objection was the study’s comparison of two- and four-year colleges and its conclusion that four of the seven colleges whose graduates had the highest salaries were community colleges. Benson wrote, “While [community colleges] offer a sound education, the idea that an associate’s degree is more valuable than a baccalaureate degree from a four-year research university is questionable at best. The study compares apples to oranges and essentially concludes that they are both fruit and therefore equal.”
As I did in my blog post, Benson argued that graduates’ first-year salaries give little indication of how much they will make over the course of their careers. Additionally, Benson pointed out, the study was conducted during the recession (2006-2010), which undoubtedly affected graduates’ salaries.
Benson stated that another of the study’s shortcomings had to do with the people from whom it collected data. Individuals who were employed by the federal government — Colorado’s largest employer — were not surveyed. Nor were graduates who were self-employed or working out-of-state. And students who finished college and enrolled in graduate or professional school weren’t included, either.
Benson contended that the study only included about one-fourth of graduates from Colorado colleges, and that this was not a representative sample. Indeed, the website on which the study’s results are displayed (collegemeasures.org) has the following disclaimer: “To be included in the state wage data, graduates must be employed in Colorado and earning equal to or above the Colorado minimum wage. This equates to approximately 26% of all college graduates from 2006 to 2010.” The site also explains that data were not collected from the people described in the previous paragraph.
Benson also condemns the study’s authors for being overly critical of the ability of graduates with liberal arts degrees to earn a decent living. He concludes by saying, “Reports such as College Matters don’t measure up when it comes to giving students and families an idea of how a college education can lead to lifelong career success.” For more information, see Benson’s full article.