The data show that median starting salaries for recent graduates with Shenandoah bachelor’s degrees ranged from $21,143 (environmental studies) to $47,148 (respiratory care therapy). Annual tuition at the private school is $27,550.
At the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, the chief of staff to President Richard V. Hurley said he didn’t know what to make of the data.
“I was a history major,” said Martin Wilder. “How about you?” For those with a bachelor’s degree in history from the school, the median starting salary was $28,403. The public university’s in-state tuition is $4,686.
The Virginia database grew out of a movement to trace the path of individual students from elementary school through college, what is known as a “longitudinal data system.” In recent years, state officials also have conferred about how to link education data with employment and wage records gathered for the state unemployment insurance program. They came up with a solution that stripped the merged records of identifying individual information to protect the privacy of students, graduates and employees.
This year, the state legislature passed a law requiring annual publication of the wage and degree data.
The state higher education council consulted extensively with college leaders to assuage their concerns. Caveats and provisos about the wage and salary information are displayed prominently on the Web site.
“The more we talk to them, the more at ease they seem to be with it,” said Kirsten Nelson, a spokeswoman for the council.
Grover “Russ” Whitehurst, a Brookings Institution analyst who was a senior education official in George W. Bush’s administration, said the publication of labor market data linked to colleges is overdue and is more important to applicants than indicators such as graduation rates or admissions selectivity.
“The most important thing government can do to increase productivity and innovation in higher education is to let people actually shop,” Whitehurst said. “It is revolutionary.”