Saturday, September 14, 2013

Ranking elite colleges on graduate salaries

Here we learn that graduates of Oberlin earn a lot less on average than graduates of Harvey Mudd. Huh, wonder why? To be fair, the reporter does note that it may be a function of the fact that Harvey Mudd graduates engineers and scientists, Oberlin musicians and poets.

There is no big surprise here. Colleges differ in many ways besides quality of instruction, including quality of students, distribution of majors, location. Students and parents cannot make an informed judgment about the earnings potential of a degree from a particular institution without implicitly controlling for these other factors.

In fact, we have readily available public data on college graduates' salaries by field of study. So how hard would it be for the NY Times to run some simple analysis predicting the salary differential between Oberlin and Harvey Mudd implied by field of study? And how hard would it be to do a google scholar search and find that many of the best minds in empirical economics have taken a look at the relationship between pay and elite college attendance, trying to control for selectivity of attendance (e.g., here and here)?

And yes, there are nonpecuniary benefits to a college education that salary statistics miss. And we haven't even touched on the cost side of the benefit-cost calculation.

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