The Free Press, Mankato, MN

February 16, 2013

Our View: Higher ed info is already available

The Free Press

— As students and graduates grow more frustrated with high tuition, student loan debt and job scarcity, some U.S. legislators think the answer is — more bureaucracy.

Sensing a way to please irate citizens, Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., have drafted legislation requiring states to make more accessible the average salaries of colleges’ graduates. The theory is prospective students can compare salaries by college and major to help determine the best bang for the buck.

Proof that this may have some bipartisan steam, Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., and House majority leader, is supporting similar legislation in the House.

While details are still unclear, the intent is for the U.S. Department of Education to be the aggregator of data from all 50 states, relying on the states themselves to ferret out wage data from those who employed graduates of colleges.

The Wall Street Journal gives the example of a private college graduate who hoped his political-science degree would get him a government job. But it didn’t, as most of the job losses in past years have come from the public sector. So he is now saddled with $100,000 in student loans and is considering joining the National Guard.

A Department of Education spokeswoman said this is a priority for President Obama, pointing out that a year ago, the administration began crafting a “College Scorecard” that would add salary information for graduates and average debt load to the existing data on costs, graduation rates and loan repayment rates. However, the department is reluctant to share how it was going to do this.

As pointed out by the Journal, state data have shortcomings. Pay for the same job varies widely by location, nor does the data include self-employed graduates or those who work for the U.S. government.

Without doubt, such information is helpful for students making decisions on what fields to pick and what universities to choose. But that information is already available for those who want to look.

For instance, the Minnesota Department of Education along with the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities have a booklet, “Pathways to Success” given to parents and high school students. It details the high-demand occupations in the state, what career paths and degrees are needed and what wages to expect. It also offers tips for parents on helping students to develop career paths.

Any Internet search will gather up many sites that offer advice on best-paying careers. Forbes even puts out recommendations on best jobs requiring an associate’s degree.

If a student picks a field because it’s something she loves but then finds out afterward either the field is glutted or salaries are low, it’s usually the result of poor research, not the lack of government services. It doesn’t take too much research to know that the fields of history, sociology, English and, yes, journalism are going to be lower paying than those becoming electricians, who would have a lower wage than electrical engineers.

Nor does this speak to those students who have degrees but for other factors have turned out to be poor job candidates. Maybe they were lacking social skills or good interviewing techniques. A degree doesn’t guarantee you a job if you don’t have your act together.

While the temptation is there for legislators to solve a problem with more legislation, you cannot legislate common sense.