The Cost-Benefit Guide to Choosing a College Major

The Lone Star State wants you to know just how much that anthropology degree will be worth.

University of Texas Austin campus at sunset-dusk - aerial view
David Sucsy
Fawn Johnson
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Fawn Johnson
Feb. 24, 2014, midnight

If you’re a high school stu­dent in Texas and dream of a ca­reer in the arts, you might want to know that fine-arts and stu­dio-arts gradu­ates at Mid­west­ern State Uni­versity in Wichita Falls make, on av­er­age, about $10,000 more per year than alumni who ma­jored in the same sub­jects at Sul Ross State Uni­versity in Alpine — and that the dis­par­ity lasts for 10 years after gradu­ation. Yet the total cost of a bach­el­or’s de­gree is the same at both schools, around $42,000. The av­er­age time to com­plete the de­gree is also about the same, a little more than five years.

A pro­spect­ive col­lege stu­dent can now learn all this and more from a neatly pack­aged Web re­port — which can be cus­tom­ized to re­flect one’s loc­a­tion, house­hold in­come, and SAT scores — gen­er­ated from a rich trove of data on tu­ition and fees at Texas’s pub­lic uni­versit­ies, and on the earn­ings of those school’s gradu­ates. The search­able web­site My­Fu­tureTx.com launched in early Feb­ru­ary, but it is only the most re­cent step in the state’s long com­mit­ment to open­ness about the eco­nom­ic trade-offs in­her­ent in choos­ing a col­lege.

Texas has the most soph­ist­ic­ated and pub­licly avail­able high­er-edu­ca­tion data set in the coun­try, and its of­fi­cials are ag­gress­ive about mak­ing sure that state res­id­ents can use that in­form­a­tion to make bet­ter de­cisions about where to go to col­lege and what to study. My­Fu­tureTx.com is the new­est of sev­er­al state-sanc­tioned web­sites that of­fer de­tailed de­scrip­tions of gradu­ates’ earn­ings, job op­por­tun­it­ies across ma­jors, and com­par­is­ons of col­leges’ costs.

The pic­ture can be un­set­tling. For ex­ample, an­thro­po­logy ma­jors who gradu­ated in 2002 make an av­er­age of only $46,000 after 10 years on the job. Eco­nom­ics ma­jors from 2002, by con­trast, earn about $100,000, ac­cord­ing to Texas CREWS, a state-run Web tool that uses the data set to provide in­form­a­tion to the pub­lic.

Of­fi­cials in Texas, from Gov. Rick Perry on down, say they think it’s bet­ter to go in­to a col­lege ma­jor know­ing what you can ex­pect at the end, rather than find­ing out after you’ve racked up tens of thou­sands of dol­lars in debt. “The le­gis­lat­ive body has pushed us in­to this cul­ture of shar­ing,” said Ginger Gos­s­man, dir­ect­or of plan­ning at the Texas High­er Edu­ca­tion Co­ordin­at­ing Board. “Our pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions, they are just as com­mit­ted to provid­ing the data as we are.”

This gran­u­lar track­ing of col­lege gradu­ates and the costs of their de­grees re­quires a high level of co­ordin­a­tion with the state schools and the Texas Work­force Com­mis­sion, which mon­it­ors state em­ploy­ment. “It takes a gentle hand. We have to only tell the story the data tells us,” Gos­s­man said. “When we share the data with the pub­lic, we share it with caveats.”

The earn­ings data track only those gradu­ates who re­main in Texas, for ex­ample. And if an ac­count­ing ma­jor winds up work­ing in ag­ri­cul­ture, that per­son’s salary won’t show up in the earn­ings re­lated to ag­ri­cul­tur­al de­grees. Such con­straints com­plic­ate the pic­ture, but Texas of­fi­cials be­lieve the in­form­a­tion they’re provid­ing has real value.

Texas wel­comes out­side scru­tiny as well. It was one of the first states to part­ner with the in­de­pend­ent re­search or­gan­iz­a­tion Col­lege Meas­ures, which mines state-level data on col­leges and gradu­ates to re­veal which uni­versity ma­jors provide the best bang for the buck. The group also de­signed My­Fu­tureTx.com.

“They have a total com­mit­ment to trans­par­ency, and they have a great data sys­tem,” said Col­lege Meas­ures Pres­id­ent Mark Schneider. “They have long-term out­comes [for gradu­ates at] one, three, five, eight, 10 years, and it’s all built at the pro­gram level.”

Texas is the only state that provides easy ac­cess to gradu­ates’ stu­dent-debt levels by in­sti­tu­tion and ma­jor, Schneider said. That’s an in­valu­able tool for ana­lyz­ing the debt- to-earn­ings ra­tio of gradu­ates, which is an es­sen­tial part of meas­ur­ing the value of a col­lege de­gree.

“It’s a little scary, quite frankly,” Schneider said of some of Texas’s stu­dent-debt data. For ex­ample, ar­chae­ology gradu­ates from the Uni­versity of Texas (Aus­tin) are de­vot­ing al­most the same por­tion of their monthly earn­ings to stu­dent loans in their 10th year out of col­lege as in their first.

Yet, he said, Texas high­er-edu­ca­tion of­fi­cials aren’t try­ing to hide that kind of in­form­a­tion. “I was talk­ing to one of their com­mis­sion­ers,” Schneider said. “I said, ‘I’m go­ing to write a re­port about that. Do you have a prob­lem with that?’ He said, ‘Not at all.’ “

What We're Following See More »
AT ISSUE: COMEY FIRING, SESSIONS’S RECUSAL
Mueller Seeks Documents from DOJ
5 hours ago
THE LATEST

Special counsel Robert Mueller "is now demanding documents from the department overseeing his investigation." A source tells ABC News that "Mueller's investigators are keen to obtain emails related to the firing of FBI Director James Comey and the earlier decision of Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from the entire matter."

Source:
MULVANEY SAYS PROVISION ISN’T A DEALBREAKER
Trump May Be OK with Dropping Mandate Repeal
7 hours ago
THE LATEST

"President Donald Trump would not insist on including repeal of an Obama-era health insurance mandate in a bill intended to enact the biggest overhaul of the tax code since the 1980s, a senior White House aide said on Sunday. The version of tax legislation put forward by Senate Republican leaders would remove a requirement in former President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law that taxes Americans who decline to buy health insurance."

Source:
FRANKEN JUST THE BEGINNING?
Media Devoting More Resources to Lawmakers’ Sexual Misconduct
7 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Members of Congress with histories of mistreating women should be extremely nervous. Major outlets, including CNN, are dedicating substantial newsroom resources to investigating sexual harassment allegations against numerous lawmakers. A Republican source told me he's gotten calls from well-known D.C. reporters who are gathering stories about sleazy members."

Source:
STARTS LEGAL FUND FOR WH STAFF
Trump to Begin Covering His Own Legal Bills
2 days ago
THE DETAILS
DISCUSSED THE MATTER FOR A NEW BOOK
Steele Says Follow the Money
2 days ago
STAFF PICKS

"Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence officer who wrote the explosive dossier alleging ties between Donald Trump and Russia," says in a new book by The Guardian's Luke Harding that "Trump's land and hotel deals with Russians needed to be examined. ... Steele did not go into further detail, Harding said, but seemed to be referring to a 2008 home sale to the Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev. Richard Dearlove, who headed the UK foreign-intelligence unit MI6 between 1999 and 2004, said in April that Trump borrowed money from Russia for his business during the 2008 financial crisis."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login