St. Olaf News


Salary data doesn’t tell whole story, Hanson argues in Star Tribune

HansonBob250x300A new statewide database that tracks how quickly college graduates find jobs and how much they’re paid doesn’t tell the whole story, St. Olaf College Professor of Chemistry Bob Hanson argues in a Star Tribune essay.

The paper’s original story on the database claims that “Minnesota’s new tool shows which college degrees pay off.” But in a counterpoint essay, Hanson notes that the database excludes graduates who go on to earn advanced degrees and those who take a full-time job outside of Minnesota.

“The implication would be that graduating from college and going to graduate school, medical school, or other professional school ‘does not pay off,'” Hanson writes.

“On the contrary — continuing education after getting a B.A. or a B.S. degree in the physical sciences is very common and certainly does pay off, not only financially but also in terms of lifelong opportunities and meaningful employment.”

Hanson notes that while the new statewide database puts a physical science degree (chemistry, physics, astronomy, or geoscience) in the “Bottom 5” for pay off, a report from the American Chemical Society shows a median salary of $92,000 for chemists — $73,900 for those with a bachelor’s degree and $100,600 for those with a Ph.D.

“So a degree in chemistry doesn’t pay off? Really?” Hanson writes.

His essay mirrors a national debate on the practice of ranking degrees — or entire colleges — based on postgraduate earnings. PayScale’s annual “College ROI Report” similarly excludes data for individuals who go on to earn graduate degrees. It’s a practice that, the Chronicle of Higher Education notes, “hurts the ROI calculation for institutions — and majors, like psychology, history, and business — with many students who continue on to graduate school.”