In March 2014 Payscale came out with its annual rankings of colleges based on how much graduates earn after 20 years. As before, there was a lot of grousing about the data. How can we trust the self-reported salaries of people who happen to choose to participate in the Payscale surveys? The #1 college — Harvey Mudd — used self-reported data from only 112 graduates. How can we judge the economic value of a highly selective college where the majority of the graduates go onto grad school? All MBAs, law degrees, medical degrees, PhDs — all students with graduate degrees — are not included. The methodology ends up elevating schools with big engineering programs because many engineering undergraduates go on to earn good livings without going to grad school. And that helps explain why engineering-heavy Stanford and MIT rise well above Harvard and Yale.
The Obama administration is working on its own college ratings system, “Postsecondary Institution Ratings System,” that’s supposed to be up and running in the fall of 2015. The government held a symposium in February 2014 where data experts offered their ideas on how the government should design it. The New America Foundation pointed out in a comment letter that the government already collects a lot of salary information . If we could tap into the Social Security Administration database, then we could have a pretty good sense of what post-college earnings really are at every institution.
Is it possible to do that without violating individual privacy? And does Social Security even track wages above its salary cap of $117,000?