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Pilot Linking Degrees and Earnings Gets First Try at U Texas

The first-year median earnings for an undergraduate who received his or her degree in health and physical education/fitness at the University of Texas at Austin is $39,441. The median debt for that individual is $24,306. After 10 years, the earnings reach $70,262. For an undergraduate who majored in computer and information sciences, the median income for year one is $85,334; the median debt is $27,644. By the tenth year the CS major would have a median income of $117,418.

That's the kind of detailed information that prospective students and their families would find helpful in sorting through college choices. Yet, a federal ban on student-level data collection has until now prevented close scrutiny of specific degree programs or majors as students move out of their original states.

The ban, legislated by Congress in 2008, was ostensibly meant to address privacy concerns related to the federal capture of student data on an individual level. In reality, some institutions — especially those that are members of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, which represents more than 1,000 private nonprofit institutions — have blocked the idea of developing a nationwide database of student outcomes. According to an issue brief by NAICU, comparing colleges based on "monetary measures of value" can't "present a full or accurate representation of an institution's mission and character."

The ban hasn't stopped some university systems from creating a proximate version of that kind of reporting. For example, officials in the U Texas system set up their own reporting of graduate earnings. "SeekUT," as it's called, has been in use since 2014, tapping data obtained through partnerships with various state agencies as well as the National Student Clearinghouse and the Employment Projections program at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

More recently, the university system began working with the U.S. Census Bureau. The agreement, signed in September 2016, is expected to give both organizations a bigger, more accurate picture of degree attainment and how it affects labor market outcomes. Through the Census Bureau's Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics (LEHD) program, seekUT now presents information about post-college outcomes for UT graduates living across the country — not just in Texas — thereby circumventing that federal ban.

The Census Bureau has also released two sets of data for public use as a beta project. Post-Secondary Employment Outcomes (PSEO) data provides earnings and employment outcomes for college and university graduates from UT by degree level, degree major and post-secondary institution. The various statistics are generated by matching university transcript data with a national database of jobs, using "state-of-the-art confidentiality protection mechanisms" to secure the underlying data.

A second release by the Census Bureau, scheduled for later this year, will cover students within the Colorado Department of Higher Education. And the agency said it was working on adding additional colleges and universities to the database.

With these pilots, the Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics program "addresses a major gap in the federal statistical infrastructure for education statistics," said John Abowd, chief scientist and associate director for research and methodology at the Census Bureau, in a prepared statement. "Up until now, individual states could only measure earnings and employment outcomes for persons who worked in the same state where they were educated. Thanks to this pilot, states, universities and prospective students have the opportunity to see employment outcomes by program of study by region and industry."

The statistics focus on the 25th, 50th and 75th percentile of earnings at one, five and 10 years after graduation — expanding UT's seekUT program, which only provided one-year and five-year in-state data. The number of graduates in each of these groups will also be published. The Census Bureau said it would update the statistics for future graduation cohorts as they become available.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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