College Measures is a US website “that answers the questions people want to know: how much money do [graduates] make from different programmes, different institutions, different programmes within institutions”.
The description is given by Mark Schneider, president of the firm and a former commissioner of education statistics at the US Department of Education under the George W. Bush administration. He said the project is about getting “better information into the hands of students and into the hands of legislators so that when they make decisions about where to spend time, money, taxpayer resources, it’s a better-informed decision”.
Dr Schneider has said before that US college presidents think he is “full of shit”. He says his work raises questions about the public funding of arts and humanities degrees.
The site, which also offers more general data on graduation and employment rates by institution, now works with seven state governments and has won funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which Dr Schneider said gave money because it is “committed to improving higher education”.
Dr Schneider, a former professor of political science at what is now Stony Brook University and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative thinktank, told Times Higher Education that university leaders are hostile because they dislike the revelation that, once you look beyond the big-name institutions, “what you study is more important than where you study”. For instance, data show that technology, engineering or maths degrees have high wage premiums, whereas pure sciences such as chemistry do not.
He added: “There’s stability in the wages over time. If you have a philosophy degree, or a creative writing degree or an English degree, or a psychology degree, you start out very low among your peers that have done engineering or math and 10 years later you’re still at the bottom.”
States urged to make data public
Nuggets on the website include data for the University of Arkansas showing that its mechanical engineering graduates earned more than $47,000 (£,487) in their first year of employment, while journalism graduates earned less than $28,000.
College Measures is a joint venture between the American Institutes for Research thinktank and software and consultancy firm Matrix Knowledge. It has attracted funding from the Lumina Foundation, which describes itself as aiming to help more students progress to higher education.
Although half of all US states claimed to have merged databases on student records together with tax data showing earnings, “none of them had made it public”, Dr Schneider said.
Using the Lumina funding, College Measures approached state governments saying it could put such data “in the public domain and it will cost you nothing”.
Dr Schneider said it has published data on (mostly public) colleges in Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia, and is now working with Minnesota. The majority of those states currently have Democratic governors.
Could College Measures data mean that public funding is cut for, say, liberal arts or English degrees? “I believe that students have to do what they are passionate about,” said Dr Schneider. “There’s a question about how much society has to subsidise them as they do what they are passionate about. That’s a serious political discussion.”
And on the wider principles behind College Measures, Dr Schneider had a question for the UK: “When are you guys going to do this?”