Measuring the Value of a U.Va. Education
Today’s UVA in the News listings include a piece from the CBS News “MoneyWatch” website that states that U.Va. grads have the fourth-highest starting salaries in the nation among their state flagship university peers.
The story cites a website, CollegeMeasures.org, as the source of the rankings.
Regardless of U.Va.’s high standing, those rankings are bound to be unpopular within academe. CollegeMeasures.org is what it says it is: a website that attempts to quantify the value of a college experience. Plug in the type of institution, check which data set you wish to tap into (Graduation rates? Starting salaries? First-year retention?), and hit enter. The site also includes a section on Economic Success Measures, which uses state-by-state data to compare salaries across schools and majors. (Here’s Virginia’s site.)
This viewpoint of a college degree as a labor market credential is nothing new. My guess is that when the first student told his parents he intended to declare an English major, his parents probably asked him, “And what in the world are you going to do with that?” That is totally understandable; parents are supposed to worry about the well-being of their children, not to mention what they’re getting for their tuition dollars.
The problem is that such a numbers-based evaluation of the college experience is so incomplete. How do you measure the value of defending one’s ideas, and learning to recognize and appreciate the value of someone else’s, in those famous late-night college confabs? Can you quantify the type of mutual education that occurs between randomly paired roommates from opposite corners of the world? How about the experience of starting a student organization from the ground up — planning events, building membership, managing a budget? When Coursera takes over the world, will there be a network of Coursera grads for whom a print-at-home certificate is the ticket to a job interview or even a free beer in a bar somewhere? (And will Coursera, edX and Udacity meet U.Va. in the 2020 NCAA Final Four? And will it be played on xBox?) How can you quantify the ability to have easy access to vast libraries and the most learned scholars in their fields?
Graduates’ starting salaries are a fair and valid consideration when selecting a college or university, so go ahead and poke around CollegeMeasures.org. But remember that such measures should be mulled amongst many other inputs when making such a major decision.