Hardly a day goes by without a debate about the proper role of government. Some people view government as a huge sink hole for money whose primary function is to limit freedom. Some citizens want the government to be as helpful and active as possible, preferably using tax revenue from other people. I'm somewhere in the middle, trying to decide each case on its merits.

For example, I think it's a good idea that the United States requires banks to calculate consumer loan interest costs using a specific formula to produce something called the APR. Now consumers can compare loans from different banks. That law probably doesn't cost the government much to enforce, and it's good for citizens. Prior to the APR requirement, banks tried as hard as they could to confuse and screw consumers.

I'm starting to feel the same way about college majors. I think the government should require colleges to display the average starting pay and the estimated lifetime earnings for each of the majors they offer. Perhaps colleges should also display the unemployment rates for each college major. Let's also assume that colleges have to use their own graduates for the calculations because, for example, Harvard graduates would see higher starting salaries than grads from lesser schools.

Then I would take it one step further, the same way cigarette warning labels do. For majors with the lowest starting salaries I might include the warning: "Graduates with this degree are unlikely to be able to pay their bills. Their best career options include crime, marrying for money, or living with parents."

Proponents of small government might point out that information on starting salaries is readily available on the Internet. That's true, but I think there is value in presenting the information with brutal frankness, and including appropriate warnings with every description of course offerings. That level of convenience will make the parents' jobs easier as they try to steer their kids in the best direction.

Is that too much government?

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Jun 29, 2012
This idea may work well in the U.S. but what about other countries? In the U.S., India and Germany a good engineering degree will get you good wages. In the U.K. you earn less than the person who cleans the crud off the back of the fridge. A degree in management in the UK will earn you megabucks (however stupid, bullying and idiotic you are) but in China this would not entitle you to sweep the streets.
+9 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 29, 2012
I kind of like the idea of coming at the problem from a different direction. It costs more to educate a science major than an English major - yet universities get paid the same for both.

Plus, I'd like to delicately suggest that there is a tad bit of ego at play in how math/science departments are run. I think some of the gateway courses that convince would-be science majors that they need to rethink their plans are tougher than they need to be - and do more to serve the egos of department heads (only the top 2% can make it in MY field) than the needs of students and society in general.

A student who struggles to get "C"s in a tough science class may conclude he/she needs to stick with liberal arts -when in fact the kid could be successful with some encouragement. What is lacking is any motive on the part of schools to offer encouragement to such students.

Why not offer financial inducements to schools to graduate more qualified math/science majors? I'm confident they'd figure out the whole recruitment/retention thing if it were in their best interest to do so.

Also - my sister works for one of those private college systems with lousy loan repayment rates. She points out that they educate the single-parent, GED crowd - the ones other schools won't touch. They focus on courses like medical technicians, etc. This is more job training than classical education. While more control is warranted, she thinks that having 60% of such students find jobs and repay their loans is a pretty good rate of return relative to other social spending for that same population.
Jun 29, 2012
So your premise is that students have no idea what they are getting into? Btw, people who think philosophers are losers - that is incorrect - just like in any other profession - bad philosophers may be. Good ones are not.
Jun 29, 2012
"Prior to the APR requirement, banks tried as hard as they could to confuse and screw consumers." --Scott Adams

They still do. They just have one less option for doing so.

But seriously, the information you're talking about would not be amazingly useful, because by the time the student graduates it would have changed. Although, I guess that warning label would stay reasonably accurate for certain majors.
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 29, 2012
I have a child in a California State College now and feel there is another very important piece of information that the colleges should publish. A histogram of how many years/semesters it has been taking to graduate, by major. At the college my child is at now, hey have so many impacted classes for her major that it seems almost impossible to graduate in four years. The college charges the same amount of money per semester no matter how many units you take. So they are !$%*!$%* the parents by making it impossible to get in the classed needed to graduate, thus requiring you to go to school for more semesters, which cost more money for us parents.

While the cost of a private college might be more per semester, it might not be any different in actual cost if you can graduate in four years from a private college but you have to go for five years in a state college.

Jun 29, 2012
@hbmindia, you receive 9% annually on deposits? Where do I sign up for a bank account in India?
Jun 29, 2012
Ecks, if people don't have problem solving abilities and cannot learn them, it will be very difficult for them to graduate with an engineering degree. So I don't think promoting the information pertaining to the wages, employment rate, etc. of engineering will lead to a new generation of moronic engineers.
Jun 29, 2012
I've read multiple comments about the problem with graduates self-reporting their income. The government already knows how much money I make and what company is paying me that annual wage. They just need to link that information to my college & major.
+17 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 29, 2012
I'm not sure that steering people to the lucrative jobs is the way to go either. There are a LARGE handful of people out there that should not be engineers. They have neither the problem solving or analytic skills to be successful in the career. There's also a trend in America to dumb the education down so that any idiot can feel successful. We do not need large graduating classes of moronic engineers.
Jun 29, 2012
Was this blog inspired by the recent news that for-profit college's account for about 17% of all graduates, but over 40% of loan defaults? Maybe student loans should also be rationed based on the potential ability to repay. MIT engineering students can get full ride loans, while a history major attending Sally Ann's Liberal Arts College just gets coupons for half off at McDonald's, where they'll eventually be working.

When I was in school, a graph was posted showing the amount the school spent per student based on majors. Because the engineering schools had buildings and equipment donated by either successful graduates or by businesses that relied on research done by the college, the school only wound up having to spend about half of what we paid in tuition on us. The most expensive major, getting about 75% more dollars than they paid, was LIBRARY SCIENCE! So I was paying tuition to subsidize the nerd in the grad library that shushed me! That's just wrong.
Jun 29, 2012
Maybe the simpler method would be to base student loan limits on starting salaries and unemployment rates. The value of a certain education is arguably the increase in earning potential. Loans have a tendancy to inflate the prices of things above their value, which is why the cost of an education is rising, while the value of that education is not.

So government could simply regulate by saying "You can't give a $100,000 loan for an education that is probably worth $10,000" Same as the way you can't give a $100,000 loan for a $10,000 car. This has the added benefit of giving the government a tool for nudging people into the careers that the country needs - like engineers, doctors, and nurses.

But student loans need to be expanded in other types of education. Trades, entrepreneurship mentoring, and life management councilling should also qualify for loans that increase earning potential.
Jun 29, 2012
Don't know how well this would work re colleges and income but Scott makes a very valid point in this post.

Governments can do some very effective governance by simply passing the right laws to ensure maximum credibility and transperancy of information. The cost is negligible and a lot many con jobs, ponzi schemes and scams can be nipped in the bud.

For instance, here in India, some banks advertise the interest rates on their deposits with something called "yield."

What they call "yield" is the total compounded interest received over the lifetime of the deposit divided by the number of years.

For eg, a five-year deposit which gives 9% per annum is advertised as a deposit which yields 10.77% per annum.

It is a non-sensical calculation as the same 9% interest rate will "yield" 13.67% per annum simply if it is a 10-year deposit, but a whole lot of people fall victim to such advertising.

Such cheating can be stopped simply by passing one small regulation but it seems that nobody in our government is able to think as well as Scott does.

Incidentally the education sector has been identified by some thinkers as the place where the next financial crises will occur.

+18 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 29, 2012
Though I have somewhat libertarian-ish leanings, I think this is a great idea. I usually draw the line when the government prohibits or requires a course of action because they think they know better than you. I despise bans of tobacco and large sodas in NY, for instance. All the while, I think the FDA labeling laws are really great, as it doesn't restrict a consumer's choice, but just presents the facts.

I'd love to see the following data from colleges:

- likely tuition each year until graduation
- per-major average starting salaries and lifetime earnings (by region the college is located, others upon request)
- return-on-investment of majors in a nice, neat table
- average times to pay off student loans by major
- top 5 average job titles for first job out of college (and yes, "waiter" and the like should be on the list)
- unemployment figures by major
Jun 29, 2012
Why not base the amount of government loan assistance on those post graduation earnings numbers. That way people would be steered into more needed and lucrative careers because they won't be able to afford the less useful and lucrative majors such as geography. I actually knew a guy I went to high school with that got a degree in geography. When he finally got a job a few years after graduation, it sure as heck wasn't in the geography field. Although to get the job he actually found, he did have to cover a lot of geography, so maybe the degree sets you up to travel long distances to find a job. Hmmm...
+13 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 29, 2012
I love this idea. Amongst your many proposals, this one ranks #1 on my list of favorites.

I'll volunteer some warning labels:

"The surgeon general has determined that Philosophy degrees are a leading cause of poverty, depression, and has been linked to self-destructive behavior among college graduates in the workplace."

"The IRS has determined that undergraduate Psychology degrees are an early indicator of low tax contributions and oppressive debt."

"The Department of Dou.che.bagg.ery has determined that English majors make extremely angry telemarketers, and daycare workers with attitude problems."

Wouldn't it be fun if we all contributed to Scott's proposal?
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 29, 2012
The government has already enacted rules/laws similar to this in for-profit schools. @priceymark and deldran, One does not have to rely on graduates to supply accurate data. I work in a Career Services department that tracks all of the graduates of the school, until they are able to find work related to their field of study. The students also sign a "waiver" that allows employers to divulge basic information such as start date and job duties, and starting wage (although we don't ask for it currently).

So we call the graduates until they find work (and help them with job leads as well), then verify their information with the employer.

If a program can't reach certain verified placement rates, it loses accreditation.

Jun 29, 2012
In our house, we have a simpler solution that we have drilled into the kids since birth:

You can only pick a major that is listed as a category on job boards / help-wanted listings.
Jun 29, 2012
The main problem would be enforcing accurate reporting.
1. You have to rely on graduates to self report their employment and salary status after graduation. For a variety of reasons graduates might not want to disclose to the college that they are either unemployed or that they found a high paying job right away.
2. Some colleges have found ways to cheat the numbers. They have relationships with companies who agree to take on unemployed graduates on a temporary basis at an average salary. This boosts the statistics for the college, but it's not a permanent position, and 12-months later the graduates are back on the street.
Jun 29, 2012
I have no problem with the government requiring businesses to post information. However, currently what they are doing is akin to "Go into this major, or pay a fine (tax) of $2000". Under your proposed scheme people can still choose any major they want without penalty.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 29, 2012
I like the idea because it's the right amount of government - so long as they pass the law, but do nothing to ensure compliance. Compliance will come solely from schools opening themselves up to lawsuits by not providing the data, or by providing false data.

But when you start thinking about how a school would come up with such information, it's rife with problems. They would have to rely on students self-reporting their salary after they graduate. If a student doesn't report, is that because they don't have a job or don't want to bother reporting. You'd have to trust the school not to ignore data they didn't like. How would entrepreneurs be counted (may not have a "salary"); or peace corps volunteers; etc.
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