DETROIT – It’s good to graduate from the University of Michigan’s dental school with a master’s degree. In your first year, you’ll earn, on average, $200,000.
You’ll leave school with an average of $175,000 in debt, according to new data from the federal Department of Education.
Using IRS data to get earnings one year after graduation, the federal government hopes parents and potential students will use the College Scorecard data to compare schools.
"Every student is unique," Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a statement when the data was released earlier month. "What they study, as well as when, where and how they chose to pursue their education will impact their future. Students know this instinctively. That's why we worked to deliver a product that is customizable and transparent – a tool that provides real information students need to make informed, personalized decisions about their education. The Scorecard also ensures students can make apples-to-apples comparisons by providing the same data about all of the programs a student might be considering without regard to the type of school."
The data comes with some caveats. The average earning amount is available only for programs that had more than 20 students graduate from them in any given year, which makes it impossible to track and compare programs at the community college level – particularly in rural areas.
Even with those difficulties, the data offers unprecedented glimpses into the value of degrees and programs.
Across the nation, average earnings increase by the level of a degree earned, but so does the debt owed and the ratio of debt to earnings, Robert Kelchen, a higher education professor at Seton Hall University, found.
There are some caveats to the earnings data, Kelchen points out, including that jobs that rely on cash tips that don't always get reported to the IRS could be listed at earnings under what people actually make.
It's also tough to directly compare debt and earnings, because debt repayment is spread out over a long time and not due all at once in the first year after graduation. Also, some professions may have low starting salaries but grow in later years, while others start out high but don't increase much over the years.
Follow David Jesse on Twitter: @reporterdavidj
'The new normal': Amid rising seas, East Coast on pace for record-breaking tides
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: College Scorecard: How students compare majors, potential salaries