College is usually a financial burden for anyone thinking of enrolling. Student debt is only getting higher, reaching approximately $1.6 trillion and rising. Now more than ever, since the Class of 2020 students are most likely graduating into a recession, students and parents are getting more concerned with students finding high-paying jobs and not graduating into crippling debt.
A team from The Philadelphia Inquirer created an online tool – “Does that Degree Pay?” – to help people navigate this tricky environment. Using information released in 2019 that links personal Internal Revenue Service income fillings with student loan information, the team created the first-ever database that collected information about degrees, federal loan debt and first-year incomes across New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware.
Information in the database is divided into three cards: “You’ll Make,” “You’ll Owe” and “You’ll Pay” which can be used to compare different colleges across the region. The three cards reveal different information given by the released data. “You’ll Make” refers to the median incomes of graduates with degrees from a college, “You’ll Owe” is the same graduates’ median federal student debt and the “You’ll Pay” card is the monthly federal student loan payment over the course of 10 years. On the site, the information can be sorted by income, federal debt or school name.
Bob Fernandez, a Business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and one of the creators of the tool spoke more about “Does that Degree Pay?” and the importance of knowing what students are earning outside of college. Along with Erin Arvedlund and Dain Saint, the two reporters and former gaming developer got to work to create the virtual tool.
“You’re taking on debt without really understanding what you’re going to be making right out of school,” Fernandez said about battling an unknown that students across the country can attest to.
The team put this tool together to help young people navigate the terrain. “Soaring debt for college students is one of the biggest economic issues of our times for young adults as they struggle with monthly payments and delay life decisions. They need to go into college with eyes wide open.” Fernandez said.
One of the most interesting things the reporters found, Fernandez joked, is that it was more cost-effective in the first year after graduation to major as a dental hygienist than a dentist.
The tool can be used to compare majors, federal loan debt, schools and income for both undergraduate and graduate students, as there are functions that sort the degree type, including master’s degree and doctoral degree.
For instance, if you want to find out if you’re more likely to get a higher salary from being a business major versus being a finance major at Rutgers, the function allows you to compare these differences in cost. (If you’re wondering, first-year business administration, management and operations graduates made a median of $106,800 compared to finance majors taking home a median of $59,400).
But the tool isn’t just for comparing what major may provide the most bang for your buck — it can also be used to determine between master’s degree programs or even different colleges.
Although the tool is fairly comprehensive, not all majors are represented. A quick search for different majors revealed that majors like women and gender studies or any language outside of English provided no results. The data collected also didn’t represent whether the students took out any private loans, since only federal student loan debt was shown.
It’s worth noting that not everyone picks a major due to its cost-effectiveness or chooses a school simply due to the original price tag. But, this tool can still be a helpful way to add more context when making these decisions.
It can often feel like it’s sink or swim when it comes to discussions about college, but tools like these make information more accessible and can help to more informed financial decisions.