By Troy Miller
Senior Researcher and Policy Analyst, Florida College Access Network
Postsecondary institutions have felt the pressure from students, parents and others to provide better information on the overall value of their degrees, and while more and more information has become available with regards to the cost and affordability of attending college, considerably less is known about the economic and employment outcomes of graduates at the college and academic program level. Does a 2-year college grad with a respiratory therapy degree fare better than a master’s degree holder in special education? Very soon, prospective college students in Florida will be able to compare these economic and employment outcomes.
Due to a law passed in 2012 by the Florida Legislature, public employment and earnings outcome data for degree and certificate program completers for each public postsecondary institution will become available later this year. The Economic Security Report, as it’s called, requires the data to be easily accessible to the public, especially those making and helping students make college decisions. The data is expected to make its debut in late 2013 by way of CollegeMeasures.org, a website which has hosted other state-level economic success data by institution. Arkansas, Colorado, Tennessee and Virginia already have state pages listed through the site that lists wage and employment data by program and degree level by college. Similar data has been available for Florida College System institutions since last year (see Smart College Choices website).
Degree seekers in Florida will soon be able to view employment data by program and degree level for each public postsecondary institution (from CollegeMeasures.org)
The report will include an unprecedented display of data for completers of all programs and degrees at public colleges and universities in the state, including the average student loan debt, employment rates, short and long-term earnings data, continued education rates and number of students receiving public assistance. The data will be displayed in a standardized and easy to understand format that will reduce issues that have been previously reported with colleges’ self-reported job placement data. The report is to be prepared by the Department of Economic Opportunity with cooperation from the Florida Education and Training Placement Information Program and other state agency and higher education representatives.
Pressure on colleges to provide such data on graduates has mounted in recent years and college administrators in particular have expressed their apprehension regarding the public use of the data. To date, it’s been the responsibility of each state to decide whether or not to track and make public data on college graduates. This might change in the future, as federal lawmakers (including Senator Marco Rubio) have begun to show support for a centralized, national database on the costs and potential benefits of attending individual colleges. While the intention of such resources are to provide useful information to students and parents, many worry the temptation for making unfair comparisons between colleges will be too great to resist.
With the release of the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard last February, a national debate has ensued regarding the availability and use of employment data of college graduates. Students and parents understandably want to know more about how college degrees can pay off, but many in the higher education realm dispute that the economic returns of college graduates should be emphasized at all. Sara Goldrick-Rab does an eloquent job overviewing some of the benefits and challenges associated with choices related to prioritizing employment data of college graduates.
Tell us what you think. Will college goers in Florida benefit from knowing more about the economic returns of specific degree programs? Will the release of the Economic Security Report be good or bad for public postsecondary education in Florida?
~Follow Troy Miller on Twitter @TroyMillerFCAN
Photo credit to Ramberg Media Images