Colleges and pay

An interesting statistical exercise appeared in the New York Times and came to me via a tweet from @danschawbel: Do Elite Colleges Produce the Best-Paid Graduates?

The article engaged me on several levels. As a marketing/influence consultant who primarily works with colleges in recent years, it was interesting to see the value of liberal arts pursuits asserting themselves by mid-career, while more practical how-to subjects like engineering, computer science, and nursing skew the figures in the first few years after graduation.

I don’t see Denison or Cedarville on the list, but Kenyon, known for its writers, is well down the pack, along with Ohio Wesleyan, known for its teachers, journalists, and community activitists. No shame there. And both outperform Ohio State at the crass monetary level of mid-career, but trail OSU at the start. Here, I’m guessing the difference is that a lot of the kids at Kenyon and OWU go on to grad school, or go into fields like journalism or science where the starting salaries are small and it takes a good while to hit stride economically.

Looking over the whole list makes me think that what the figures really show is the importance of geography and family background to success. Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Outliers, provides a much clearer insight into these figures than anything that might be happening at the colleges themselves.

I was also interested on a personal level in which school had the highest starting salary on the chart: Harvey Mudd. (or perhaps MIT — they look close)

Salary Stats by School

Salary Stats by School

Why? Because my oldest daughter went to Harvey Mudd and, while she worked outside the home, did well as an engineer and then quality control manager for a national food industry company.

For her, Harvey Mudd was a good fit and an incredibly difficult challenge. It took everything she had to keep up with the fire hose of math and memorization that she faced when she got there… especially since her high school didn’t have AP math and science courses to get her up to speed with most of her classmates.


Now that she works full-time with her rising generation, she’s dragging down those mid-career averages… but she’s doing a lot more to make the world a better place than when she was improving ice cream production…

Finally, I found the article interesting because it calls into relief my own career/education choices. For reasons that seem silly now, I chose to jump off the college-prep to college train I was on after high school, and pursue a career as a typesetter> printer> photographer> producer> consultant. While it’s true that without a degree or any formal training I’ve been able through a lot of hard work to single-handedly generate $200k to $250k of cash flow each year, it’s hard to shake the feeling that life would have been easier if I had some collegiate coattails to open certain doors and meet specific “education requirements”.

Of course, one advantage I’ve had is the freedom to be a generalist. One nice thing about being a storyteller is that I get to see all the things I’m glad I don’t have to do every day of my life. Doctor. Lawyer. Engineer on One Gizmo. Marketing Manager for One Product. Professor of One Subject. Musician who plays Their Music or My Music. Having a project-oriented focus fits my temperament better than any of the specialties I’ve seen … and it’s allowed me to see much of the world, and grapple with many of the toughest problems that companies and institutions are facing. So I’m not complaining… just wishing I’d taken a few years out at the beginning to pursue a liberal arts track.

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