Collegiate Return on Investment


Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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13 Responses

  1. Avatar NewDealer says:

    I find a lot of these Return on Investment stories to be really wrong-headed because they make a lot of assumptions. The majors here are: Sociology, Fine Arts, Education, Religious Studies/Theology, Hospitality/Tourism, Nutrition, Psychology, and Communications.

    Many of these majors are not ones that people pick because they are dithering. I would argue that many to most people who go major in Fine Arts, Education, Religious Studies/Theology, and possibly Psychology are not doing it for riches. They know these majors do not lead to brilliant financial success usually.

    We need rabbis, priests, and ministers (unless you are Richard Dawkins and company). We need teachers. We need artists (unless you want the world to be very boring), we need social workers and substance abuse counselors and other people to work with those in trouble or on the margins of society. Talking about a ROI completely misses the point!!! These kind of articles assumes that everyone goes to college/university to find a good paying job and not to study something that interests them or to find a way to save the world. The anti-Intellectualism in these articles is astonishing!!!!!

    I would also say that talking about private v. public is very hard because there is a wide variety of difference in of those.

    You have the so-called Public Ivies like Berkeley and Michigan. These are very different from San Francisco State which has suffered in recent years. There have been a lot of stories about people not being able to enroll in required classes at SFSU because there were not enough sections offered and too many students. These put a lot of people in limbo. They were not graduating in four years because of class shortages, not their own fault.

    When it comes to privates you have a number of schools that can be considered very to highly selective in admissions like the Ivies, Stanford, MIT, Brandeis, The University of Chicago, University of Rotchester, Cal-Tech, BYU, Notre Dame, Duke, Georgetown, and the various small-liberal arts colleges (Amherst, Oberlin, Vassar, Williams, Reed, Kenyon, the Seven Sisters, Swathmore, Haverford, Colby, etc.) And then you have private schools that have much lower admissions requirements like the Franklin and Marshall or Bard as a small example.

    What would be interesting is comparing job opportunities and salaries of MIT and Cal-Tech engineers as compared to engineers from Cal or Purdue.

    Or job offers and salaries for people from Cal and Michigan as compared to NYU, Boston University, and George Washington.

    You can also compare job offers and salaries of UC grads to State grads in California. In the original master plan, UC campuses were supposed to be for A students, State campuses (like SFSU) were for B-students. This is a rough description of the Master Plan. You can also do this for other Flagship public universities and the less selective variants in each state.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      If one doesn’t view college as an investment, it is certainly true that these numbers won’t be particularly helpful. I don’t think it’s anti-intellectual to view college in strictly financial terms. We’re talking about something that costs, at minimum, for most people, tens of thousands of dollars to get through.

      What would be interesting is comparing job opportunities and salaries of MIT and Cal-Tech engineers as compared to engineers from Cal or Purdue.

      I think more indicative would be comparing midrange schools public and private. Southwestern vs Southwest Texas State. Schools like MIT or Cal are too unusual to be indicative of much. Also, engineers wouldn’t necessarily be the best place to look because their pay doesn’t differ dramatically.

      But I generally agree that with “public” and “private” we are covering a lot of ground. The only constant, though, is that the former tend to be cheaper. And I would expect, at least at the middle towards the bottom, public school is going to be more favorable. Probably, the higher up you get, the more advantageous private school is.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:

        “If one doesn’t view college as an investment, it is certainly true that these numbers won’t be particularly helpful. I don’t think it’s anti-intellectual to view college in strictly financial terms. We’re talking about something that costs, at minimum, for most people, tens of thousands of dollars to get through.”

        This is true but I often find that “getting an education” and learning about the world in a well-rounded and curious way are often absent from our educational talks and policy discussions on a K-12 level. School reform is all about this horrible mandatory testing that seems designed to create worker bees. College policy talk is all about STEM and jobs that provide decent salary. There is nothing wrong to this but it is not the only thing. I strongly dislike that a well-rounded liberal-arts education seems to be only an option for the upper-middle class and above who can send their kids to private school or afford to live in better public school districts.

        I might be rather quaint and old-fashioned about this. Perhaps most people do go to college to get a decent job and this is where the survey is useful. Perhaps subjects like hospitality and nutrition are best taught as apprenticeships.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Well, as a matter of public policy, economic utility should, in my view, carry disproportionate weight. That’s where the state’s interest in education (be it K-12, or after) ultimately lies. Which isn’t to say that they should all just be vocational academies (even if we do need more of those, for some students), but I think the focus on STEM would be good, if I thought that it would improve the economy to the extent that its boosters do (which I don’t, though it certainly has an important place in things).Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:


        I do not disagree that we need STEM but I am doubtful that it would be a cure-all for the American economy especially if most STEM just ends up going into social media companies like Twitter and Instagram.

        The entertainment industry (TV, Books, Movies, Music, Video Games, Comic Books, Fashion, and lots of other stuff) are a huge part of the American economy. Many people in these industries studied art at college/university. But their training and education is not recognized and that bothers me greatly. There seems to be a boorish tendency in America that thinks art is an innate talent and cannot be taught or cultivated. Parts of artistic talent are innate but Meryl Streep would not be Meryl Street without her undergrad and graduate degrees in theatre.

        Not to mention that I think people would find things very boring and unpleasant without aesthetics and design.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        We aren’t really in disagreement about the potential of the aggressing STEMing of education, even if we don’t entirely agree on why it is limited.

        I don’t know that Hollywood as as big a claim on our economy as STEM. Nor that the formal education (and government bankrolling of it) is as required for it.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        Will, I’d disagree that a formal education isn’t needed for a career in the arts and entertainment. A formal education can’t impart creativity on a person not inclined towards it. However, if you have a person inclined towards using their imagination than a formal education could give them the tools they need by teaching them how to write grammatical, paint, sculpt, or do a bunch of other things.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Lee, I don’t mean to suggest that a formal education in such things is without value. I would argue, though, that it’s not as universally critical as it is for engineering. There are degrees of importance. I’d argue that coding is in between those two, and IT has historically been in between coding and arts.Report

  2. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    If we’re just looking at the Educational Experience as a howitzer to propel people downrange into the heart of the cubicle farm, no college could compete with an apprenticeship / mentoring program in terms of Bang for the Buck.

    Of course, apprentices wouldn’t learn anything more than what they were taught in that apprenticeship. Life’s more than a job. I can’t speak to other professions but in my own, if you scratch a good programmer, you’ll find either a good musician or an artist of some sort underneath. Something about patterns, don’t know exactly what it is. This much I do know, the best coders I know generally conform to this rule. They seem to find some satisfaction in a well-written piece of code but their jobs don’t define their lives.

    Perhaps the problem resolves to the absurd promises made by these institutions. Maybe it’s even subtler than that — it’s a perverse interpretation of the assertion that Going to College translates into a better job. Going to college translates into a better, more informed person, which usually translates into a better job. An employer looking at someone fresh out of college sees someone who actually committed to finishing a program — and did. The rest is sorta immaterial. They’ll have to be trained to do their job anyway — every firm has a different methodology.

    And that’s where colleges and universities could do a far better job. Look at the good universities. Somewhere, just down the street, is an incubator where new firms are starting up all the time. Research Triangle in Raleigh/Durham was set up to harness recently graduated talent — and some that hasn’t even graduated yet.Report

  3. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    When hiring people, or when teaching them, or when training them, I struggle with how to induce these people to think on their feet, to look out into the landscape of the decisions they have to make and the actions they have to take, and to identify relevant facts and conditions. I struggle with how to teach them to be aware, and to actually think. Most people seem to want to memorize and repeat.

    College, it is to be hoped, serves as an indicator that one has learned how to think. This is not always true, of course, and it is sadly the case that many colleges do not convey these skills particularly well. Worse yet, employers do not seem to either be able to identify people possessed of this skill or seem to be unable to exploit it when it is found — at least in recruitment and in entry-level positions.

    Nevertheless, this is what we should really be looking for in college — not just the imparting of a particular body of knowledge and skills, but development of the ability to think.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      I agree with you in the abstract. If I were designing higher education, it would be towards broader undergraduate degrees: Physics instead of mechanical engineering. Sociology, psychology, or economics instead of business. And so on. The skills and knowledge for particular career paths would be gained in vocational degrees, minors, and post-graduate education. There is value in broader education instead of being all eagle-eye on vo-tech.

      However, so much would have to change between here and there that I seldom talk about it. It would require employers to re-evaluate how they approach hiring. It would require a mindset change by the public. Most importantly, it would require failing students and instead of looking at those schools that do so as though they are failing, looking at them instead like they are institutions that will not let students pass through unless demands are met.Report

    • Avatar ScarletNumber says:

      College, it is to be hoped, serves as an indicator that one has learned how to think.

      Not in 2013, it isn’t. I would only assume that it is an indicator of knowing how to jump through four years of hoops.Report

  4. Avatar Pinky says:

    It looks like the Forbes article was based solely on the Payscale site’s numbers. I checked them out and they’ve got a very small sample size, especially for smaller schools.Report