To demonstrate more accurately the financial worth of college degrees, at least six states in 2012 explored the use of databases to publicly disclose income levels of graduates in specific fields. Virginia’s State Council of Higher Education brought its initiative to fruition in the fall through its Wage Outcomes Report, which provides information about the immediate employment/salary experiences of alumni who remain in Virginia after graduation. The report shows clearly that Virginia’s higher ed institutions have a profound, positive impact on the commonwealth and its citizens—and demonstrates that a degree still matters.
But prospective students and their families anywhere in the nation should be wary of using only information about salaries just after graduation when choosing a school or major. If, as has been demonstrated, recent grads will not just change jobs, but careers, as many as seven times in their lives (and many will hold jobs that don’t yet exist), they must have the communications, critical thinking, relational, and creative problem-solving skills that the liberal arts provide. Research has shown that graduates of our many outstanding liberal arts colleges may not have the highest-paying jobs right out of college, but they occupy president/CEO positions in disproportionately high numbers later in their careers.
Also, some graduates, including many who attend liberal arts colleges and universities, make career choices for which money is not the biggest consideration. They have embraced the wonderful perspective of former Barnard College (N.Y.) President Judith Shapiro, who said, “You want the inside of your head to be an interesting place to spend the rest of your life.” Finding a vocation to match their passions or personalities is their priority, and as a result they may happily engage in performing valuable work at jobs whose importance is not measured by the pay scale. What’s more, some of the most accomplished, prominent liberal arts instituions’ alumni first went to grad school or served in entry-level jobs before finding the opportunities that propelled them to new levels of success, and pay.