News and Tribune

November 7, 2013

State report compares value of college degrees

Ivy Tech grad’s salaries higher first year out, but four-year colleges win over time

By MAUREEN HAYDEN
CNHI Statehouse Bureau

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana higher education officials have long been promoting the value of a college degree, but a new report shows some degrees are much more valuable than others.

According to the “Return on Investment” report issued Wednesday by the Indiana Commission on Higher Education, Indiana students who’ve earned an associate degree at a two-year college are averaging higher salaries in their first year of employment than graduates of the state’s four-year public universities.

That salary discrepancy changes over time, but much more so for some degrees than others.

Graduates with a four-year engineering degree from Purdue University, for example, have an average salary of just more than $65,000 within five years of leaving school — earning about $28,000 more than a Purdue grad with a history degree. And the report shows that while most of those engineering grads go on to work in their field of study, one of top fields of employment for those history majors is in the restaurant industry.

The detailed report includes information on tuition costs, student debt load, graduate salaries by degree and the top three fields of employment by degree for every public two-year and four-year institution in Indiana. The data in the report was pulled from several sources that track Indiana students who remain in the state after college.

“We want to be unequivocal in our message that a college degree is valuable, and more valuable than ever,” said Jason Bearce, Associate Commissioner for Strategic Communications and Initiatives. “But it’s become increasing clear that the return on investment that people get depends greatly on the choices they make and what they want to come out it.”

The ROI report is the latest in a series of ongoing efforts initiated by Higher Education Commissioner Teresa Lubbers to provide more information to Hoosier students and their families about the costs and benefits of a college education. The commission has set a goal of increasing the number of college graduates in the state. Only 33 percent of the state’s nearly 3.4 million working-age adults hold a college degree now; the state wants to push that rate to 60 percent by 2025.

But Lubbers has also promoted the message that students and their families need to be wise about how their spending their education dollars, given that the average Indiana student comes out of college with a student loan debt of more than $26,000.

“Though there is no mistaking the value of a college degree, the data clearly show that the outcome greatly depends on individual choice: where students go to school, what they study, how long it takes them to graduate and how much debt they incur,” Lubbers said. “We want to empower Hoosiers with the facts, equipping them to maximize their return on investment through purposeful planning and responsible borrowing.”

Part of what the data in the report shows is that students attending the regional campuses of Indiana University and Purdue University may be able to see a better return on their investment than students on IU and Purdue’s main campuses. According to the ROI report, graduates of Indiana University-Kokomo, for example, are averaging higher first-year salaries than most of their counterparts.

IU Kokomo Interim Chancellor Susan Sciame-Giesecke said that’s likely due to several factors, including lower tuition costs at the regional campus and the high number of students graduating with high-demand nursing degrees. The return of advanced manufacturing plants in Kokomo has also meant more of the school’s business graduates landing well-paying jobs.

“Things are kickin’ here in Kokomo,” Sciame-Giesecke said.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence also weighed in on the ROI report: “I am pleased that our state has been able to connect education and work force data to help Hoosiers make smart choices as they seek to improve their economic well-being through education and training.”

— Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com