Empower Students With Wage Data

Texas students entering colleges and universities too often don’t have the information they need to make smart choices about which program they will enroll in. Advocates and organizations around the state have acknowledged this problem and are working to address it; however, solutions are too often grounded in the idea that students do not have enough information when perhaps we should be asking whether students have the right information. For the typical 18-year-old, choosing the right college and major is a uniquely stressful and consequential decision, and byzantine data such as earnings-to-debt ratios and employment data can quickly wane from useful to overwhelming. Instead of drowning students with complicated data and industry metrics, we should instead work to provide students with simple, user-friendly information that answers basic but critical questions, such as:

  • Is this degree worth the cost and time?
  • Can I afford this program?
  • Will I end up with a decent job after graduating?
  • Can that job lead to a rewarding career?

Degrees and credentials—even within the same institution—can lead to wildly different outcomes for students. For example, at San Jacinto College in Harris County, a 2-year associate degree in nursing earns more than twice as much in average starting wages than an equivalent 2-year academic associate degree. Yet while certain degrees and credentials offer much better outcomes for students than others, high-achieving programs are in some cases the least popular degrees offered by colleges and universities.

According to a recent statewide poll, expanding access to up-to-date information on jobs and wages is supported by 91% of Texas voters. In fact, this idea was the most widely supported idea on the survey, beating roughly 30 other policy objectives spanning education, health care, broadband, and other pressing topics. Clearly, Texans of all backgrounds—including race, political orientation, and geography, among other factors—understand this problem and want it solved effectively and urgently.

Researchers have found that people tend to make bad decisions in a number of areas outside of education. For example, 61% of people choose health care plans that are totally indefensible given their health care spending, despite often having access to an abundance of information and data. This just confirms what we all knew on some level: more information is not always better. Instead, students need clear, compelling, timely, and trustworthy information to make stronger choices regarding their educations and careers.

Living Wage Designations Can Help

Living Wage Designations – simple indications of whether degrees and credentials lead to decent jobs – can cut through the information noise and help students make stronger decisions regarding their educations. Each degree and credential offered in Texas should be rewarded a Living Wage Designation based on whether graduates go on to earn a job and wage that is self-sustaining. While we don’t want to punish programs that don’t have these outcomes – Texans enter higher education for a variety of reasons outside of employment – we believe strongly that students should be made aware of a program’s outcomes before they enroll. This designation can be a bold step forward in helping students to make more informed educational decisions.

Post-secondary students are faced with a number of important life choices, and choosing a career pathway can be incredibly stressful. Giving students accurate, clear, and relevant data on earning potential can help alleviate some of the stress by empowering them to make informed decisions about their future.