Stilts, Students, and Spreadsheets
By Abby Chau
Institutional researchers descended upon the Big Easy this year to attend the 2012 AIR Conference. To cater to the Mardi Gras atmosphere, organisers arranged an opening reception flanked by stiltwalkers, passed out those notorious beaded necklaces, and distributed snacks of popcorn, frozen chocolate bananas, and pretzels. For a second you forgot that you were there to attend sessions about retention rates, university rankings, and institutional reporting.
How Much Does it Really Pay to Go to College? was a particularly interesting session. Presented by professors from the University of Georgia, the study posed the question of whether it is a good decision for students to invest in education. They sought to dig deeper in the studies that suggest that students who earn a degree earn approximately 1 million dollars over their working lifetime and therefore affirming that higher education is a positive externality. The university delivered a spreadsheet taking into account different variables including students who did not complete their studies, average earnings and average financial aid among others.
The findings suggest that instead of the 1 million dollars return, students earned approximately $800,000. And not surprisingly students who studied chemical engineering topped the list of earners and BAs in English and History made the least amount. There were no huge revelations in their findings but nonetheless it was an interesting study that could be adapted. They plan to release the exercise so that metrics can be measured on an institutional level.
One of the biggest oversights of the exercise is that the researchers did not take account of student loans and interest rates. This is a major issue in the higher education landscape that no one (except for Rev Jesse Jackson) really seems to want to confront at the moment.