Study Ranks Schools By Grads’ Earnings

MoneyLove money? Well, yes, most of us do. Love it more than anything? That’s a good question to ask yourself while pondering which college to attend. If the answer is “yes,” congratulations, you have a new information resource that will allow you to narrow your research considerably. If the answer is “no,” and you in fact care about other elements of life than money, you also have a new and valuable information trove, one which you can use in your wider-ranging decision-making about possible schools.

Regardless of your answer, the fact remains that money is a key factor in choosing a college: how much a school costs in tuition and living expenses, how much financial aid you may have to take out, and, of course, how much money you might expect to make after school – a particularly important consideration given rising tuition costs and often-heavy student loan burdens. Now, the Wall Street Journal has produced a database that provides insight – albeit limited – into earnings outcomes from individual schools.

The Journal compiled federal education department data and produced a ranking of top undergraduate colleges – those with the highest SAT scores by entrants – by the earnings graduates receive 10 years after enrolling. The general conclusion of the paper’s arrangement of the data will come as no surprise: graduates of “highly selective research universities” are making more money a decade after enrolling in their undergraduate programs than are grads of liberal arts colleges. Yes, an MIT-trained engineer hauls in more than a librarian who wields a bachelor’s degree from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

The Journal results are not broken down by major, however, so it’s possible to see only the median earnings for graduates. Also, these are grads who had obtained federal student aid, so the numbers don’t capture the whole picture for each school, as the colleges have varying proportions of grads who needed federal money to pay for college. Also included in the results are schools’ average SAT scores among the students whose earnings 10 years out is recorded and ranked.

At the top of the compensation list is the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, which prepares undergrads for medical careers. The college’s grads were averaging $116,400 in 2011/12, the period for which the WSJ compiled results. Next up was Samuel Merritt University in California, another health sciences school, whose grads were making $111,500. MIT was No. 3, at $91,600.


Traveling down to the bottom of the list, we find The Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico in last place, from which grads were making a paltry $18,600. Rounding out the bottom three were Mississippi Valley State University in the Mississippi Delta, with $22,400 in earnings for graduates, and the Maine College of Art, whose grads pulled in $23,700. According to the left-leaning think tank Center for American Progress, the average American with only a high school degree makes around $25,000.

The Journal‘s numbers come from the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard, which for the first time contains median earnings figures for individual schools.

Reed College spokesman Kevin Myers

Reed College spokesman Kevin Myers

But the limitations of the research, and the limited value of using the Journal‘s results for college decision-making, are exemplified by the case of Reed College, a small, private liberal arts school in Portland, Oregon. Although the median SAT was quite high at 1,328, grads’ earnings a decade after enrolling were just $36,200. Smart people going to college and coming out to make less than some truck drivers? What’s going on?

Essentially, many graduates from Reed and other liberal arts colleges take longer to get up to financial speed than do grads from research-focused schools out of which, for example, a student may graduate straight into a well-paid position in tech. From Reed, fully a quarter of graduates go on to obtain PhDs, meaning that after undergraduate schooling is over, the grads go right back to being students again, often for years.


“Many of these folks are being a TA or something so they’re not making a huge amount of money, but a few years after if they are a full professor, or they’re a researcher at Intel, certainly there’s a huge jump,” says Reed spokesman Kevin Myers.