I haven't seen this discussed here yet, and it deserves discussion. A week ago, The Economist
published a huge analysis it did of the effect on early-career earnings of specific colleges, which of course included a ranking based on how each college performed vs. demographic expectations for its students. The analysis certainly doesn't resolve the question whether that's a good way to judge colleges -- something The Economist
acknowledges -- or whether the particular data it used was powerful enough to make college-to-college differences meaningful. But it's the most sophisticated, thoughtful analysis of comparative earnings data I've seen, and the results are both interesting and surprising.
What The Economist
team did was to take all of the data in the federal database and to develop a model of expected income based on factors other than which college people attended -- demographic factors like family income at the time of first enrollment, race, sex, and other factors like college major, region, and subsequent education. Then it identified an expected median income level for each college based on the characteristics of its financial aid-applying students. Then it looked at how each college's actual alumni did compared to the model's predicted level. The brilliance of this is that is compares engineers in the southeast to engineers in the southeast and English majors in the midwest to other English majors in the midwest. It doesn't simply tell you what you already knew.
What it tells you is that there are significant differences in college performance. The top of the list includes Harvard and MIT but also Babson, Villanova, and Cal State Bakersfield. And Yale -- with demographic expectations a littel higher than Harvard's -- is near the bottom of the list. Harvard graduates earn more than Villanova graduates, but the two beat the averages by about the same amount (as does tiny Otis College of Art and Design, whose grads seem to be beating expectations by an astonishing 40%). And how can it not be interesting that Harvard's 28-year-old former aid applicants out-earn Yale's 28-year-old former aid applicants by almost a third? I find that stunning, and almost inexplicable, given how fundamentally similar they are.