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First-year earnings and debt for 37,000 college majors at 4,400 institutions

December 03, 2020

Investing in a college education comes with expectations of good returns on the investment. A recent analysis by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW) found that first-year earnings for the same degree and major can vary by as much as $80,000 at different colleges. And while graduates from more famous, selective colleges have higher earnings in many instances, such is not always the case.

In Buyer Beware: First-Year Earnings and Debt for 37,000 College Majors at 4,400 Institutions, the CEW uses data from the College Scorecard to demonstrate the vastly different outcomes in expected earnings and debt payments for graduates. Analyzing data from the College Scorecard, the CEW found stark differences in earnings by graduates of different colleges with the same degree in the same field of study. There was a nearly $80,000 difference for students with a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Mitchell College who earned $20,9000 compared to those with the same degree graduating from Bismarck State College who earned $100,5000.

Anthony Carnevale, lead author of the report and the CEW director, noted in a press release that some of the best bargains for students are community colleges and other colleges without the “big brand names.” For example, graduates of Santa Rosa Junior College in California with an associate’s degree in nursing have higher first-year earnings ($89,700) than 12 different graduate degrees from Harvard.

The report also shows that higher levels of education do not always result in higher federal student loan debt payments. Overall, 309 bachelor’s degree programs lead to higher monthly federal student loan payments than the median of monthly federal student loan payments for master’s degree programs ($457 per month). And the study found 922 associate’s degree programs that lead to higher monthly federal student loan payments than the median for bachelor’s degree programs ($249 per month).

The full report and interactive data visualizations on earnings, debt, programs and institutions across the country are available here.

higher ed