You Should Have Gone to Rice, Says Feds' Post-College Salary Data

Money — i.e. making more of it — isn't the only reason to go to college. The pursuit of knowledge, the opportunity for self-discovery, the chance to test the hardiness of one's liver are also important benefits. But for people who have to make a living, college is in large part an investment, one that will pay off down the road in larger salaries and better job prospects. One of the problems with the college marketplace is that it's been difficult for prospective students and families to gauge post-graduate earning prospects.

Enter the federal government, which late last week released a trove of data showing the average earnings of graduates of essentially every college and university in the country a decade after they leave school. For undergraduate institutions nationally, the highest earners matriculate from MIT ($91,600 a decade out), which is hardly shocking. MIT is followed closely by the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy ($89,000) and then Harvard ($87,200).

For Texas institutions, the numbers are more modest. The middle-of-the pack graduate of Rice University in Houston, whose alumni are the state's top earners, pulls in nearly $60,000 per year. Alums of Trinity University in San Antonio are the second richest, followed by Texas A&M, the University of Texas, then SMU. The entire list of Texas schools follows, minus medical schools. There are tons more data on the Department of Education's College Scorecard website. Ranking colleges by the salaries of graduates is a fairly blunt measure. The kids who get into a place as selective as Rice are high achievers who would probably have turned out pretty well whatever college they attended. And it's impossible to suss out how much of the success of, say, Trinity grads is tied to the education they received at the university versus the connections and opportunities that come with being raised by a well-to-do family. (Trinity families had the highest median income while the student was enrolled in school, at $101,012). Still, combining salary data with numbers on graduation rates and debt levels provides a pretty good glimpse of how effective colleges are at preparing incoming students for careers.

Takeaway No. 1 is that if you are plan on attending college in Texas, you should go to Rice, assuming, of course, you can get in. In addition to having the highest earnings, it also has the highest graduation rate and debt levels on par with two-year community colleges. Takeaway No. 2 is that the flagship state universities (UT and A&M) and other upper-tier private schools (Trinity, SMU, Baylor, TCU, Austin College) are also a solid bet. All graduate better than three-quarters of their students, who tend to leave school with a reasonable debt-to-income ratio. Other schools in the flagship university systems (e.g. UT Dallas, UT Arlington), other big public universities (e.g. University of Houston, University of North Texas) and some second-tier private universities also have a reasonable debt-to-income ratio, but their lower graduation rates suggests that fewer students reap the full benefit of their investment.

Which leads us to Takeaway Nos. 3, 4, and 5: Do not attend Charles and Sues School of Hair Design in Bryan,  where the median debt ($10,750) is more than Rice's but its median income ($14,600) is definitely not. Also be wary of certain for-profit outfits like Wade College, which loads students with more debt ($28,500) than income ($26,800). The only other two schools where the debt-to-income ratio is greater than 1.0 are Texas College in Tyler; Jarvis Christian College in Hawkins; Wiley College in Waxahachie; and Texas Southern University in Houston.
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Eric Nicholson
Contact: Eric Nicholson