The payoff for state flagships is 10 percent larger than published data indicates

Stange’s co-author, U.S. Census Bureau economist Andrew Foote, had access to earnings records in all states, and the two researchers were able to link them to student education records in five states: New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Ohio and Colorado. . The paper, “Attrition from Administrative Data: Problems and Solutions with Applications to Postsecondary Education,” is an early draft, circulated by the National Bureau of Economic Research in July 2022, and has not been peer-reviewed.

Understanding how paying for elite institutions can make a difference in student choice. A study found that many low-income students did not attend Texas flagships even when they were guaranteed admission. The idea behind the college websites was that parents and students would make better decisions that could lift families out of poverty if they had access to salary information. But the study suggests that the wage data that states are releasing may be too incomplete to influence households to act as policymakers expect.

The University of Colorado Boulder is a good case in point. The state reports that its bachelor’s degree students typically earn about $55,000 a year five years after graduation, compared to about $51,000 a year at one of the state’s less prestigious four-year institutions. A prospective student might reasonably conclude that $4,000 in additional future salary years is not worth the additional student loan debt and distance from home.

But going to the University of Colorado Boulder actually costs about $8,000 more a year and, according to Stange, an average salary of about $59,000. That’s because 45 percent of all University of Colorado, Boulder, students leave the state within five years of graduation, many jumping to the West Coast and earning more than those who stay in Colorado.

Paying extra to attend Pennsylvania State University can be even higher. Stanz said fewer than half of his state’s flagship bachelor’s degrees remain in-state.

State flagship college graduates had the largest differences between published and actual salaries. But the researchers noted two other areas where state data understates college payments:

  • Communication and engineering majors at four-year institutions.
  • Two-year community college students who earn associate degrees in career and technical fields, such as computer science, health and business. They actually earn 19 percent more than high school graduates, not 18 percent. Most of these graduates remain in the state but a few migrate elsewhere for higher paying jobs.

Another website, College Scorecard, which was created by the federal government, avoids the state data problem. It links wages reported to the IRS across the country. But it only tracks wages for students receiving federal financial aid or loans. In many state flagships, most students do not receive federal aid or take out loans; Their future earnings are not in the scorecard data at all.

Consider again the University of Colorado Boulder. College Scorecard says its graduates earn $60,740 after 10 years. But that only refers to 29 percent of students who took out student loans. Even Colorado’s underestimated data puts the 10-year salary figure at $70,850.

These online tools are helpful but should only be a rough guide to the connection between college choice, field of study, and future salary. A good rule of thumb: the more prestigious the college and sought-after major, the lower the dollar.

This story is about State flagship Written by Jill Barshe and produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for Hechinger Newsletter.