The United States Department of Education released data on student debt and first-year graduate salary ranges for the first time last month to help students make more informed decisions when it comes to choosing their field of study.
“Every student is unique,” U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said in a press release. “What they study, as well as when, where and how they chose to pursue their education will impact their future. That’s why we worked to deliver a product that is customizable and transparent — a tool that provides real information students need to make informed, personalized decisions about their education.”
The department released the data as part of a redesign of the online tool College Scorecard, which allows users to research and compare institutions based on factors such as programs, costs and admission rates, according to the press release. Eli Mansour, the department’s deputy press secretary, said the department hopes this new information will help better inform schools as they consider how to set prices for their programs.
Mansour said in an email that the data shows earnings in different fields of study vary widely. According to the data, UT graduates’ median total debt after graduation is between $16,750 and $26,495, and they make a typical monthly loan payment between $174 and $275.
The field of study in the upper limit of debt is a bachelor’s degree in music, while the lower limit is a bachelor’s degree in finance and financial management services for both the debt range and loan payment range. For salary ranges by field of study, the upper limit is $78,400 for chemical engineering, while the lower limit is East Asian languages, literatures and linguistics.
“While the primary purpose of College Scorecard is to provide data that can help prospective students and their advocates make more informed enrollment decisions, there are other numerous applications such as institutional benchmarking, self-assessment, etc.” Mansour said in an email. “The hope is that students find better fits tailored to their needs and that institutions can continuously improve.”
David Troutman, the UT System’s associate vice chancellor of Institutional Research and Advanced Analytics, said the new data is a valuable resource for both students and universities, but there are several shortcomings in the data.
Troutman said the information from College Scorecard is based only on students who have received federal financial aid, and only 60% of bachelor’s degrees offered by UT-Austin are reported. Troutman said the situation was worse at the graduate level, with 88% of UT-Austin’s doctoral degrees being omitted from the data.
“It’s informative, but it’s also limited in its information,” Troutman said.
Troutman said the data is also limited in its reporting of socioeconomic diversity, as no data is available for the listed demographics of American Indian/Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander. He said this was in part to protect the identity of students and their earnings.
“There’s just not enough students that would be able to be captured in the IRS data to provide any insight,” Troutman said. “You’re still missing a lot of students.”