In a recent, related blog post, we talked about the widespread expert agreement that the best way to measure the value of a college degree is over an extended period of time. The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) has further quantified this position with a real-world study measuring salary outcomes over a period spanning two decades.

In response to criticisms that its previous measurements of college degree salary outcomes within an 18- month to five-year period after graduation unfairly penalized liberal arts programs, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) extended its period of analysis to 20 years. The findings, released last month, further underscore just how misguided the Department of Education’s proposed Gainful Employment rule really is.

Among the SCHEV’s key findings:

When it comes to bachelor’s degrees, we see a broader range of outcomes. In 1992- 93, Virginia institutions awarded 30,866 bachelor’s degrees. These four-year degree completers experience a doubling (106% increase) of the median wage between 1998 and 2013 from $31,543 to $68,036. The 25th percentile wage increased by 89% from $24,621 to $46,602 and there was a 160% increase in wages at the 75th percentile from $41,250 to $107,406. Further, the range between the 25th percentile and 75th percentile has increased well over three times from $16,629 to $60,804. When graphed out, it is easy to see the greater dispersion in earnings the further out from the completion the data go.

The SCHEV also issued this caveat:

Students, institutional leaders, and state policymakers should all have access to clearly understandable data about the relationship between higher education credentials and the wage outcomes of graduates. There are clear differences in the data between degree levels and broad programs, but these reports demonstrate an increasing range in values between the first and third quartiles of reported wages the further out from graduation that we review the wage outcomes.”

The Gainful Employment rule seeks to measure degree outcomes only within an 18 to 30 month period and apply it only to proprietary institutions. The Department of Education stands alone in arguing that 18 to 30 months is a fair and reasonable period. That the DOE wants to apply the standard only to proprietary institutions strongly suggests the motivation is driven more by philosophical bias and not grounded in any empirical reasoning or data.

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