With median earnings for alumni at $51,000, the U.S. Department of Educations’s new, interactive scorecard ranks the University of Wisconsin at No. 7 in the Big Ten.
The data on median salaries of university alumni comes from information the Obama administration gathered to demonstrate earnings of alumni after graduating from universities. It measures the salaries of alumni who are 10 years into their career.
Associate Provost and Director of Academic Planning and Institutional Research Jocelyn Milner said the scorecard compiles its data from graduates who have borrowed federal loans.
“It’s not just the salary of UW-Madison graduates, it’s also influenced by who the loan borrowers are,” Milner said. “Who’s in the pool of loan takers is influenced by the economy, and there are a lot of influences on who borrows money for college. Then there’s how much money they earn, which is influenced by all kinds of choices people make.”
Professor of education policy studies and sociology Sara Goldrick-Rab said UW may also enroll more middle class students as opposed to other universities who may enroll more upper and lower class students. This enrollment, however, also influences students’ career earnings.
The information for the scorecard compared and ranked UW above several Big Ten universities like Ohio State and Iowa University. However, UW fell short to other universities like Michigan and Purdue. Northwestern was at the top of the list.
Though the data is offered as a “rough estimate” of a return on the investment one may have after graduating from a university like UW, analysts looking at the data should proceed with caution, Goldrick-Rab said.
Goldrick-Rab said one should consider these numbers when applying to universities, but should not use them as a way to evaluate the return on the investment one may get when attending.
“This data is for analysis, it’s not for action. You can’t decide anything based on this data,” Goldrick-Rab said. “You can decide you want to explore the data or may have possible concerns, however, it is foolish to say that it is an accurate investment indicator.”
Students are using the scorecard to determine where to go for college, but students have the help of their parents or high school counselors to determine where they want to go. So this data may be something a student whose parents are not educated may want to consider as a reasonable source, Goldrick-Rab said.
But Milner acknowledged that within its capacity, the scorecard’s utility is good. “It’s intended to be a tool to support prospective students and their families as they make choices. So as you look at it from that point of view I think it has a good usability,” Milner said.