The Colleges That Make Their Graduates Richer

From a Wall Street Journal story by Kevin McAllister headlined “The Top U.S. Colleges That Make Their Graduates Richer”:

The University of Pennsylvania does more than any other college in the U.S. to improve the financial futures of its students, according to the Wall Street Journal/College Pulse rankings.

The overall WSJ/College Pulse ranking takes into account graduation metrics, student experiences and diversity in addition to graduate salaries. But the Salary Impact ranking is single-minded, based solely on how a college’s undergraduate degree affects the earnings of its alumni.

On that score, Penn beat out Princeton University—the top-ranked college overall—as well as the three other Ivy League universities that finished among the top 10 overall. Private schools dominate the Salary Impact list, occupying 21 of the top 25 slots and 40 of the top 50.

To determine the salary boost from a school’s degree, the Journal and research partner Statista looked at graduate earnings through two different lenses: how graduates’ salaries compare with what the school’s students would be expected to earn—no matter where they went to college, given their demographic profile—and how graduates’ salaries compare with the cost of an education at the school.

Guided by research conducted by the Brookings Institution, each college was assigned a predicted median salary for graduates 10 years after enrollment, based on factors that best predict future earnings, including the proportion of students who receive Pell Grants and median parental incomes. Two-thirds of the Salary Impact ranking is based on the actual earnings of a college’s graduates and how they compare with that predicted figure.

One-third of a college’s Salary Impact score is based on how the estimated total cost of earning a degree at the school compares with how much more its alumni earn than high-school graduates in the state where the college is located. That analysis was guided by research done by the public-policy think tank Third Way.

At top-ranked Penn, the median graduate salary 10 years after enrollment is more than $84,000 above that of a high-school graduate in Pennsylvania, and the university’s graduates exceed predicted earnings at the highest rate of any ranked school.

Part of what sets Penn apart in the eyes of junior Braeden Voyticky is the number of preprofessional clubs in fields like consulting and finance available on campus, and the real-world experience they offer students.

Voyticky is a former team leader for Black Wharton Consulting, a club that does pro-bono consulting work for Black-owned businesses around Philadelphia, including one of the largest supermarket chains in the area. He says that experience helped him in interviews for his internship this past summer at Boston Consulting Group.

“You get access to a large network of alumni who have done great things in different fields you can reach out to,” Voyticky says, sometimes at the career fairs and recruiting events often held on campus. “A company like BCG will come to Penn, and you already have that connection of going to Penn, like ‘Oh yes, I took this class, I took that class,’—a natural icebreaker.”

While many of the universities with the highest national profiles finished among the top ranks of the Salary Impact list, the ranking also highlights colleges that have remained under the radar in past college rankings.

Seventh-ranked Missouri University of Science and Technology led a crop of STEM-focused colleges in the top 20, joined by Michigan Technological University, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Illinois Institute of Technology and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, at Nos. 12, 15, 16 and 20 respectively.

For Alexander Kwapisz, who’s on track to graduate from Michigan Tech at the end of 2024, the electrical-engineering career pathways that have opened up for him are one of the reasons he refers to the school as the crème de la crème for engineering in the Midwest. He says choosing to attend was an “easy decision.”

“It has the reputation that it’s difficult,” but you do well financially after graduation, says Kwapisz. “I feel that that is a motivational factor for many people. They know that despite the troubles of midterm exams and study stresses and time crunches, that it’s all going to be worth it in the end for them because they’ll turn out a lot better in life.”

“Michigan Tech conditioned me to deal with difficulties and problems and problem solving itself,” says Kwapisz, who recently wrapped up an internship at Honeywell International. “When it comes to colleges, it’s not just career advancement and career development; it’s a complete development of who you are.”

As faith in the value of higher education more broadly reaches new lows and borrowers resume student loan payments that have been paused for nearly three years, the pressure for colleges to provide a meaningful return for their ever-rising tuition costs has perhaps never been greater.

When Damon Bell’s son was deciding where to attend, figuring out which school would generate the best possible outcomes after graduation was a key element of the process. His son eventually enrolled at Amherst College, which places 19th in the Salary Impact ranking, and the father says the school has been a worthwhile investment.

“We believe because it is a top-tier school, even given the amount of tuition and room and board, that he will more than make up for it by virtue of the name and rigor and reputation of the school,” Bell says. “I’m pleased with his prospects.”

Sometimes, those prospects don’t just come from a school’s reputation among employers but also from the alumni networks that colleges build around the country—like Babson College, No. 10 on the Salary Impact list.

James Truslow, a recent Babson graduate, moved to Florida in the past year for work and says he’s been pleasantly surprised with the opportunities for alumni to attend networking events or see guest speakers that come through the college’s Miami campus, which opened in 2017.

“Knowing that Babson has this little ecosystem [down here] is something that really speaks to the community,” Truslow says. “All the people I connected with through that have all been super helpful.”

Kevin McAllister is a Wall Street Journal reporter in London. Tom Corrigan, a Journal reporter in New York, contributed to this article.

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