Bad news, former Southern Oregon University students: Your degree may not be worth as much as you think.
According to the College Scorecard produced by the U.S. Department of Education, SOU students earn a median salary of $37,300 a decade after first entering the school as an undergraduate. That's the lowest among all four-year public colleges in Oregon. The median number is, however, higher than the national average of $34,343. The figures were based on undergraduates who first entered college in 2001 or 2002.
The College Scorecard, which was announced by President Obama on Sept. 12, was created to be a resource for students considering colleges, offering information such as the average income earned by alumni, graduation rates and the cost after financial aid kicks in.
To come up with salary comparisons, the Education Department tracked the salaries of former students by matching data from the federal student aid system to federal tax returns. It then used that data to find the median earnings of people who attended each university 10 years after entering. The median salary for the schools represents a figure that has an equal number of salaries above and below it. The national figures are averages, not median numbers, so the two are not direct comparisons.
At an median salary of $74,100, undergraduates who attended Oregon Health and Science University earn more than any other college in Oregon — not surprising given that OHSU is the leading school for physician and medical specialist education in the state. Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls was the next highest four-year public college with a median salary of $50,100, followed by Oregon State University at $46,400.
The three regional general-degree universities had the lowest median salaries for public schools in the state. People who attended Eastern Oregon University and Western Oregon University earned the second- and third-lowest salaries among all four-year public colleges in Oregon, with a respective $37,800 and $38,500.
People who attended several private, private nonprofit, and community colleges had lower salaries than people who attended SOU. At a salary of $22,600, those who attended Pacific Northwest College of Arts had the lowest listed salaries of any Oregon college 10 years later.
SOU students had mixed reactions to the news.
“I suppose (I am) a bit concerned just because generally all students are worried about the future," said student Madelyn Davey, "so prospective students to come here would probably see those values and decide against coming here.”
But knowing the salaries of people who attended SOU may not have changed Davey’s decision to enroll, she said.
“Perhaps (it would have swayed her), just because I was deciding between two colleges," she said. "Actually, maybe not, because money is not the most important thing to me, I just need enough to live.”
The salaries of former students certainly could be a factor for some, SOU graduate student Alex Kump said.
“I was looking at the graduate program instead of the undergraduate program for SOU and it served me pretty well," Kump said. "But at the same time if I were an incoming freshman, knowing that, this place would not be my first choice.”
Ryan Brown, SOU’s head of community and media relations, said the university would analyze the College Scorecard’s data, but added that there are many reasons beyond expected salary involved in students' college choices.
“Potential future earnings is just one of many factors that students consider when selecting which college to attend and which field of study and degree program to pursue," Brown said. "SOU plans to review and analyze the newly released federal College Scorecard data to determine how it might change program offerings while recognizing that our core mission must balance a strong liberal arts education with the economic and employment needs of the region.”
Other factors listed in the College Scorecard for SOU included:
Graduation rates: Students who entered SOU graduated at a 34 percent clip, below the national average of 44 percent. But 67 percent of students who returned for a second year graduated, the same rate as the national average.
Cost: After deducting financial aid and scholarships, the average annual cost for in-state students at SOU was $13,551, below the national average of $16,789.
Repaying debt: According to the College Scorecard, 78 percent of SOU students began repaying their college debt within three years of graduating, while nationally the figure was 67 percent.
Student diversity: Hispanics represented the largest minority group attending SOU at 9 percent. Sixty-six percent of the student body were listed as white.
For more on Oregon college graduates' earnings and other comparisons, see https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/search/?state=OR.
Alexander Mesadieu lives in Ashland. He is a senior at SOU and a programming assistant at RVTV. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.