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Posted at 11:43 AM ET, 10/05/2012

Virginia’s leap into college-workforce data

After I filed an article Thursday afternoon on new Virginia data linking college degrees to starting salaries, I got a phone call from a state lawmaker from Virginia Beach.

Del. Chris Stolle (R) is a father of five. Four of his kids have gone through college (two of them grads of the Naval Academy and Virginia Military Institute), and one is finishing up. His experience as a consumer of higher education, he said, led him to wonder whether there was any information out there about labor markets that could help parents and students decide where to enroll and what to study.

And that led him to push for a bill, enacted this year, to require Virginia to publish annual data on starting salaries and degree programs. It is groundbreaking stuff. Here is a sample of what I was able to analyze in a first cut, looking at bachelor’s degree graduates in fields such as psychology, computer and information science and my own major, English. There’s a lot more to be found.

The data from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia on “post-completion wages of graduates” have plenty of limitations. They don’t count federal employees or military personnel. They don’t count graduates who left Virginia (for, say, Maryland or D.C.) to find work elsewhere. And there are more caveats.

Yet the data illuminate something about the economics of the investment in a particular degree at a particular school that is rarely, if ever, analyzed in detail. That is what Stolle and others in Virginia wanted when they created this database.

“At least it’s a start to give students a tool,” Stolle said. “This type of information has never really been available.”

There are many college leaders who have qualms about publishing such data. They note that college is about a lot more than a starting salary. Some worry that schools will be unfairly maligned if their grads don’t earn high (or even decent) starting salaries.

But it’s also true that starting salaries weigh heavily in the minds of many parents and students as they write those four- or five-figure tuition checks or sign those student loan promissory notes.

As Jeff Strohl, director of research for the Center on Education and the Workforce, told me: “People are demanding that we have some kind of labor market validation of the value of education.”

So far, Virginia is in the vanguard in this movement, with Tennessee, Arkansas and a handful of other states. It will be interesting to see when and whether Maryland, other states and the District of Columbia make the leap into publishing this kind of data.

By  |  11:43 AM ET, 10/05/2012

 
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