If your child, grandchild or someone else you know is currently in college or will be there soon, here’s a website you should have them check out: collegescorecard.ed.gov.
The site has exceptionally valuable information compiled by the U.S. Department of Education. It shows students (and parents) how much money college graduates can expect to make with specific majors from specific schools.
The site has information on more than 37,000 majors offered at 4,344 colleges and universities. It will provide a great service if it helps prevent just a few families and students from loading up on college debt with a major that results in relatively low earnings.
Much has been written about the growing load of college debt — more than $1 trillion — that awaits too many students after graduation. Part of the problem has to be that some families borrow too much when compared to the pay a student’s degree is likely to provide.
The Washington Post reported another interesting angle to this problem: Given information about how much they can expect to earn with specific majors, few students change their studies to one that offers higher pay.
“They’re following their passions,” remarked a vice chancellor in the University of Texas system, which has been compiling the information with the U.S. Census Bureau for two years.
Nobody should discourage a young person’s passion for a specific career or vocation — until it involves a low-paying job and a high amount of student debt. Setting up graduates for years of financial hardship will kill their passion, too.
This information on majors and earnings is becoming more widely available. Colorado, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have copied the Texas program. The community college systems in California and Florida have websites showing the median salaries of their graduates in different areas of work.
So far, this information has not made much of a difference. Educators say students rarely consider their future earnings potential when they decide which college to attend and which major to pursue.
That is understandable. An 18-year-old who dreams of being a writer is unlikely to switch to accounting just because business jobs tend to pay more. Instead, that 18-year-old is more likely to follow his passion.
This only becomes a problem when it involves excessive debt. But families should know that sometimes a four-year degree is not required.
For example, the Post reported that one study of the College Scorecard data showed that nurses with an associate degree from a community college in California earn more money than a dozen master’s degree programs at Harvard.
And in a great promotional topic for community colleges, 27% of workers with associate degrees make more than the median salary for those who have a similar bachelor’s degree.
The passion for knowledge is admirable. But it must be combined with reality into a simple equation: One day the loans must be repaid.