Every year, the salary comparison website Payscale.com gathers up its massive trove of user generated data and ranks America’s colleges and universities based on which schools make their students richest. Or, to be a little more technical about it, the site calculates each institution's total return on investment, once you take the cost of attendance into account. And every year, the results are roughly the same. Turns out, once you take financial aid into account, going to a prestigious liberal arts college or research university is a great use of four years. So is going to a reasonably priced state school with a great tech or engineering program—or, for that matter, an extremely expensive private university with a great tech or engineering program.But what about those on the bottom, those who go to college for somewhat more diverse reasons and whose decisions become as seemingly random as the admissions office decisions to admit prospective students or to form a First-year cohort.
The act of going to college is statistically predictable but individually unpredictable. In short, actions by an individual decision-maker influenced by other agents including mass media or even interpersonal, familial, or social/cultural constraints.
The stochastic recruiter is the person who is responsible for the incited action. For example they go on radio or television and stir up passion toward a particular person or group. This is what occurs when institutions release videos that stir random recruits down the street or halfway around the globe to commit to a college or university, or to defect and not go to school but do some other activity.
The self-reported earnings of art majors from Murray State are so low that after two decades, a typical high school grad will have out-earned them by nearly $200,000. Here are the degrees (i.e.: specific majors at specific schools) with the lowest 20-year net return, according to PayScale. They are all public schools: Bold names are for in-state students.
There are many more schools where the average return on a degree is low enough that students would be better off putting their money in stocks or bonds.This apocryphal statement is made every college recruitment season and the problem of using such large numbers is that the individual stories of individual and familial debt, sacrifice, and even tragedy are lost in the calculation of ROI as the development of human capital. In the knowledge industry, one-eyed persons are royalty.
In the past, the higher-ed lobby has stood in the way of allowing the Department of Education to track college graduates over the long term to keep tabs on their lifetime earnings—what’s known as a “unit-record system.” And as a result, we have to rely on less complete government surveys, or less-than-ideal crowdsourced databases like Payscale's. As a result, some students are going into college financially blind, and they could be ending up poorer for it—literally.Even more troubling are the figures of graduation from for-profit institutions, especially among the military recruits who have been the targets of corporate stochastic recruiters, using their GI benefits in ways less profitable to the individual student where the return on Investment is more favorable to the corporation.
Late last month,Corinthian Colleges, a publicly traded for-profit higher education company that enrolls 72,000 students at over 100 campuses nationwide, announced its imminent bankruptcy. Facing declining enrollment and multiple investigations into its financial and educational practices from parties including the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and a group of state attorneys general, Corinthian was also under pressure from Department of Education regulators demanding information about practices that, the department said, included “falsifying job placement data used in marketing claims to prospective students and allegations of altered grades and attendance.” The department announced that it was temporarily withholding some of the federal student aid money that makes up the vast majority of Corinthian’s $1.6 billion in annual revenues. The company said the cash delay would render it effectively insolvent.Most students are close to matriculating so a new season of recruitment will begin again with students stirred up by perhaps the prospect of good/bad roommates, going to college with/without their friends, and being distracted by so many other matters that could cause them to snap and transfer to another school after only a semester or a year. But what remains will be projected earnings and debt measurable at higher scales but also debilitating for years as one decides between religion or dope, sex and/or rock&roll.