The US Department of Education has released data on earnings and debt averages of college graduates. The detailed information allows students to compare outcomes from specific college programs for the first time.
Collected from federal tax data, the information provides an accurate, detailed view of debt and salary information. Students, parents, researchers, and administrators can use the data to determine which majors at which universities are graduating students with the highest earnings.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a statement that the department’s College Scorecard website provides “real information students need to make informed, personalized decisions about their education.”
DeVos said: “Every student is unique. What they study, as well as when, where, and how they chose to pursue their education will impact their future. Students know this instinctively. That’s why we worked to deliver a product that is customizable and transparent — a tool that provides real information students need to make informed, personalized decisions about their education. The Scorecard also ensures students can make apples-to-apples comparisons by providing the same data about all of the programs a student might be considering without regard to the type of school.”
This move represents a revision of President Obama’s original Credit Scorecard, which sought to cut federal student aid to programs whose graduates incurred high student debt and low earnings. It builds on President Trump’s executive order on improving free inquiry, transparency, and accountability at colleges and universities.
Several key rules governing higher education have already been rolled back as the Trump administration shifts its focus from regulating institutions to informing parents and students about outcomes. The goal is to let the market, rather than the government, punish programs that produce too many graduates with unmanageable student debt.
The newly released earnings data is not without flaws. It is available for only 20% of the 200,000 programs listed in the department’s database. Some of the smallest programs with only a few students were excluded on purpose due to privacy concerns, and the earnings figures were measured just for the first year after graduation, with no data on lifetime earnings. The data excludes students with no earnings.
Still, the effort has received praise from scholars and advocacy groups who have long been waiting for more detailed data on college outcomes.
“With information about average debt and earnings, students will have a better sense of the potential return on their investment in higher education,” said Mike Magee, the CEO of Chiefs for Change, a nonprofit that represents city and state education leaders.