The White House measures UT

If UT students visit the White House’s College Scorecard, web page, they will find first that the average cost of attending UT as an in-state undergraduate runs about $14, 629 a year — a price tag that, according to the page’s nifty graphic, registers as a low medium. 

Second, they will find some 80.9 percent of full-time UT students receive their bachelor’s degree within six years, a very high graduation rate, according to the website.

Third, they will find 4.7 percent of the UT students who were borrowers defaulted on their federal student loans within three years of entering repayment, as compared to 13.7 percent of students nationally.

Fourth, UT undergraduate students and their families typically borrow $22,673 in federal loans, an amount that has them paying off the debt over 10 years at a rate of approximately $260.92 per month.

What doesn’t the White House’s College Scorecard which was first launched last month, tell UT students? Probably what they most want to know: What kind of job UT students get when they graduate. The webpage offers this explanation instead: “The U.S. Department of Education is working to provide information about the average earnings of former undergraduate students at UT Austin who borrowed Federal student loans. In the meantime, ask UT Austin to tell you about how many of its graduates get jobs, what kinds of jobs they get, and how much those graduates typically earn.”

Drew Gilpin Faust, the president of Harvard University, in a recent blog post for The New York Times, concludes that federal policy makers should not focus on college graduates’ first-job and first earning statements. “The focus in federal policy making and rhetoric on earnings data as the indicator of the value of higher education will further the growing perception that a college degree should be simply a ticket to a first job, rather than a passport to a lifetime of citizenship, opportunity, growth and change,” Faust writes.

At Harvard, according to the White House’s calculations, the cost for the average undergraduate is $18,277 a year, 94.7 percent of the students graduate, 1 percent of them default on federal loans, and they and their families pay on average $88.61 per month over 10 years to pay off that debt.

In her Times blog, the Harvard president mentions Bryn Mawr College, from which she graduated in 1968. There, the cost for the average undergraduate equals $25,791 per year, 87.3 percent of the students graduate, 1.6 percent of them default on their federal students loans, and they and their families p ay on average $239.79 per month over 10 years to pay off that debt.

Faust says her first job after Bryn Mawr at the Department of Housing and Urban Development provided her a low starting salary but inspired her to pursue public service and eventually put her on the path to her current position. “Should Bryn Mawr have been judged based on what I was paid in my first year at HUD?,” she asks.

The answer is definitely no. Nor should UT students evaluate their school experience by their first post-graduation job and its paycheck.

But the White House and UT should continue working on getting that data, because it’s possible that, like in the case of Faust, a student’s first job out of college helps determine their life’s path. (Regardless of how much that first job pays.) A deeper evaluation of the data, which we didn’t do, and which may lead to calls for corrections, would help Americans to understand the true value of a college education, not just the number they’ll earn upon graduation.