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Tool allows students to estimate earnings by major

Last month, the State of Minnesota introduced a new tool to help prospective students understand how much they will be earning in future years. The tool uses the past income data of similarly situated students. Students can select their degree type and major to estimate how much their earnings will be immediately after graduation two years after graduation and seven years after graduation.

In addition, the tool provides information about the median hourly wage by degree type, and the estimated net income after standard expenses, like housing, childcare, and student loan payments. The tool also provides median income wage trends by major. This allows users to see which majors produce the best return on investment.

For example, over seven years, a student who graduates with a nursing degree can expect to see a salary growth of about 15%. However, an auto mechanic can expect to see wage growth of about 30%. Accounting majors with an associate degree can expect to see wage growth of about 38% over seven years. One super-star is Agricultural Business and Management, with a 7-year wage growth of nearly 55%.

While some degrees (like nursing) enable graduates to start out with a relatively high annual salary, the long-term wage growth is only average. For students who will need more substantial wage growth after graduation, another profession may offer better long-term earning potential. Additionally, having information like this may make it easier for students to take jobs with relatively modest initial salaries if they know that within 5-7 years, they will be making $60,000.

Earnings would provide a wealth of information

It’s good that the State of Minnesota has made this analysis available to post-secondary students, but nothing prevents individual schools from doing the exact same thing with their own graduates. Transparency regarding earnings and wage potential can only help students make better decisions about their education. By extension, it can also help community colleges make better decisions about which majors to offer and which ones to cut.

No one benefits when community colleges offer degree programs that don’t enable students to earn to their highest potential. When – after seven years in the workforce – graduates with certain degrees can’t escape a net negative income, it’s time to rethink the wisdom of offering those majors.

Seeing more than a dozen associate degree programs that leave graduates with more debt than income is revelatory. When long-term wage data show that these graduates can only accumulate more debt as time goes on, continuing to offer these programs at taxpayer-funded institutions seems predatory at best and immoral at worst. Minimally, it is counter-intuitive if the goal of the community college is to improve the economic well-being of the community and its residents.

Ideally, community colleges would publish their employment and earnings data willingly as a way to promote their programs.

Unless, of course, they have something to hide…

Photo Credit: Focal Foto, via Flickr