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Salary information gap leads to major problem

For the last few days, I’ve written about a dangerous practice that WCC has adopted. In both the Board Meeting earlier this week and throughout the college’s website, the WCC administration consistently misrepresents the salary information associated with its degrees and certificates.

I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that this practice is dangerous. Two different surveys released this month may explain why. The first, a survey of 1,000 college students seeking bachelor’s degrees, showed that 88% of respondents over-estimate their starting salaries. According to the survey, the respondents (who are nearing graduation) estimated that their initial salary would be about $104,000.

According to employers, the average starting for a new college graduate -which is the subject of the other survey – is more like $50,000-$55,000. The large gap in expected salary is causing some problems. The student survey also revealed that of the students who have already accepted job offers, only half are satisfied with their starting salaries. Fewer than half think that a college degree is worth taking on debt, and nearly half of students will graduate with at least $30,000 in student loan debt.

The vast over-estimation of starting salary is new. In 2019, the same survey revealed a gap of just $11,000 between employers and graduates. Essentially, today’s college graduates believe they’ll be earning mid-career wages at the beginning of their careers.

Incorrect salary information is a liability

Providing knowingly false or misleading information could be a legal liability. It raises the questions of where the students’ salary information came from. And how their earnings expectations got so skewed so quickly.

I don’t know. Maybe they got it from community college administrators who suggest that elementary school teachers can make $61,000 per year?

Here’s Ann Arbor’s pay scale for its teachers. A teacher with a master’s degree can expect to make $61,000 after four years in the district. A teacher with a bachelor’s degree can expect to make $61,000 after 7 years. (And there are very few positions that a teacher with only a bachelor’s degree can occupy.) Of course, if you happen to have a PhD, you can break $60K in just three years.

In Ann Arbor, teacher salaries were the subject of a wage freeze in 5 out of 6 years between 2009-10 and 2014-15. (And remember, we’re in a rich community.) In short, there is no way a certificate in elementary education is going to land someone a salary of $61,000 per year. Yet, the WCC Administration generated and perpetuates this myth. This is yet another example of the Big Lie. Repeat a falsehood often enough, insist that it is the truth, and eventually people will believe you.

It’s time to stop the dangerous practice of giving bad salary information when providing career information to students. It is also time to be transparent about the level of education required for career advancement.

Photo Credit: Daniel Ramirez, via Flickr