Recently, NerdWallet Education announced that it compiled the post-graduation survey results of 60 postsecondary institutions into a report and also used the information to build a searchable database for students looking for schools to attend. The results of each project are a step in a helpful direction; however, they should be used wisely and not exclusively when making decisions about college majors or institutions to attend.
Here is a summary of what the report concluded and what the searchable database at NerdWallet Education has to offer.
The NerdWallet Education study included over 200,000 graduates from the years 2009-2011 at those 60 postsecondary institutions, and it revealed the following:
• Only around half (53%) of students found employment right out of college;
• Others pursued a graduate degree (24%), traveled (5%) or volunteered (2%);
• 18% of graduates expressed they were still looking for a job.
• The most popular industries of employment were financial services, consulting, education/service, and information technology;
• Graduates of specialized schools, such as those for engineering, nursing, and business, were the most likely to find employment;
• Engineering and business students enjoyed the highest employment rates (65% and 55% respectively) and starting salaries ($60,879 and $54,641 respectively);
• Schools with these specialized programs made up 17 out of the top 20 schools for post-graduation employment;
• The top 20 colleges with highest reported employment averaged employment rate of 80%;
• The average salary for all employed graduates was $46, 908. (2012)
Based on the above information, the survey concludes: “Those who obtain technical degrees and attend specialized schools enjoy high employment rates and salaries” (NerdWallet Education, 2012).
Close, But No Cigar
Although collating all of the exit survey information that is available into one report is a worthy activity, there are some concerns. To its credit, NerdWallet Education does provide some responsible disclaimers:
• Students self-disclosed their salaries and some of the other information used to make the above conclusions.
• The information is gathered only from those schools that publish their exit survey results or that responded to a request for a copy.
• The 60 schools and 160 programs that participated in the study are a small fraction of the number of schools and programs in the United States.
NerdWallet Education is to be commended for taking this step; however, prospective students should also be wary of the survey at this point based on those disclaimers. Some sample immediate concerns and questions from the study include:
• Were students’ self-disclosures accurate? NerdWallet Education says yes; however, recent studies indicate a shocking lack of financial literacy among today’s college students.
• There are 6,632 postsecondary institutions in the United States (National Center for Education Statistics, 2011), which means that the conclusions of this report are based on about 2.4% of schools. This is hardly a representative sample upon which to base conclusions.
• Types of institutions also appear to be lumped together as if a career training institute is the same as a liberal arts college.
• The report makes an assumption that it’s all about money when clearly from the report itself, 31% of graduates have plans other than employment and, as I recently wrote, a college degree is not all about the money.
Therefore, this study presents a worthy pursuit that perhaps was a bit prematurely shared with the public.
An Unsharpened Search Tool
The search tool betrays similar potential with the same concerns described above. As an admirable first step, the database allows students to:
• Search by industry, employer, or salary.
• Explore potential graduate school options (e.g., medical or law school).
• Consider other endeavors or options (e.g., volunteering or travel).
• Conduct a side-by-side comparison of up to four schools at once.
• See sample questions to explore when considering schools and programs.
The same limitations of the survey are evident here as well. The overarching concern would be that prospective students may only consider the choices given on the NerdWallet Education site or that they may use a qualifier like salary to set parameters around their future happiness and potential. Even when I was an undergraduate, students were pushed toward engineering; yet, it was not the right choice for me. Had I limited my choices with only a salary consideration, I probably would not have experienced the career or personal success that I have had. Similarly, had I not started at a local school which is not included in his database, perhaps I would not have attended college at all.
Sparing the Messenger
In spite of the current limitations of and concerns about the NerdWallet Education survey and search tool, these two projects show promise as another tool for helping students. I would like to see the results presented in a more careful style than in bold, hasty generalizations, such as “only one-half of graduates are employed” when the survey itself shows 18%. I would like to see more colleges and universities represented in future surveys and databases. Only 69% of schools responded to NerdWallet’s request for survey results (2012).
Also, Nerd Wallet does make an ethical attempt to provide students with information on financial literacy, scholarships, college costs, and other such information via their education blog. I could not agree more with their statement that “students and parents [should] plan for life after college, rather than viewing college as an end in itself” (2012). Students and parents should carefully make use of these resources, too.
Overall, my suggestion is to use the NerdWallet Education survey and search tool very cautiously for now, take more advantage of their other resources for college students, and continue to watch for these projects to grow and become more useful in the future.
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