The Department of Education has just begun releasing data on how much the typical graduates of different colleges earn (part of its “College Scorecard” for comparing colleges). While it’s fine to compare things like college costs and graduation rates -- such comparisons spur colleges to trim unnecessary costs and improve graduation rates -- earnings comparisons are different. They suggest the major purpose of a college education is to boost graduates’ incomes, and they could push colleges to offer even more courses and majors focused on increasing graduates’ incomes -- and fewer without such payoffs. The Department of Education’s comparisons will only accelerate this troubling trend.
The purpose of a college education is to increase young peoples’ capacities to live full lives, follow their passions, be responsible citizens, and improve the world – not merely or even mainly to earn more money. Higher education is a public good, not just a private investment.