Poverty or Prosperity – Different Paths After College

The Wall Street Journal

Salaries vary widely for those who attended school in New York City, data show
By Corinne Ramey and Mike Vilensky
October 1, 2015

For students who attended college in New York City, financial success has varied widely, but also somewhat predictably.

The median salaries of people who went to the city’s institutions of higher learning, 10 years after they started, range from six figures at SUNY Downstate Medical Center to just above the federal poverty level at some small Jewish religious schools, new federal data show.

The figures, released last month by the U.S. Department of Education, include students regardless of whether they graduated from schools of divergent sizes, costs and missions. The students received federal financial aid.

Elite universities and engineering schools are at the top of the earnings list, and religious or musical institutions appear toward the bottom.

Ivy League schools have long prided themselves on turning out high earners, while art programs have always been a financial gamble. But academics said the data offer a stark reminder and reference point for prospective students, and increases transparency and accountability among higher-education institutions.

“From that perspective it can be useful,” said Nat Smitobol, a college admissions counselor at the Manhattan-based IvyWise. “But a lot of [college] presidents aren’t pleased because it’s a very narrow way to look at the success of the students, by looking at the salary afterward.”

Among undergraduate-degree programs at 40 New York City institutions included in the federal data, the top median income was $121,500, from students at SUNY Downstate, in Brooklyn. Next in line from that category were New York University’s Polytechnic School of Engineering, also in Brooklyn, with $73,500, and Columbia University, with $72,900.

Jonathan Kim started at NYU 10 years ago, graduated in 2009 and now runs a real-estate investment fund. He credited his alma mater with helping him become a high-earner. “The ones who make it and survive do very well because you’re taught to compete from day one,” he said.

On the lower end of the earning scale are five small Jewish schools in Orthodox neighborhoods of Brooklyn. At the all-male Mirrer Yeshiva Cent Institute, former students earned an average of $14,100.

Representatives for those schools declined to comment.

Jason Cury, the president of the Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education, a New York nonprofit group working with Jewish schools to aid their educational offerings, said some of the institutions want to change and provide vocational training. “But by and large,” he said, “they kind of want to stay within their community,” and the student focus is on religion rather than job-hunting.

By comparison, Yeshiva University, a Manhattan school that teaches both secular and religious studies, was in the top 10 highest earners. Yeshiva President Richard Joel said he felt validated.

Yeshiva students are “living an integrated life of faith and action” that contributes to their high incomes later in life, he said.

At Columbia, some students and faculty said the data reaffirmed the advantages that wealthy people have in their careers. Annual tuition and fees can exceed $50,000, comparable to other elite private schools.

Students who attended arts schools appeared to be struggling more than their peers. Former students at Juilliard are making a median of $30,100, the data show. Manhattan School of Music students make a median of $22,700.

Former students at the Pratt Institute, an art and design school in Brooklyn, fared better than their peers in music schools, with a median of $38,200.

Gina Izzo, 28 years old, began studying flute at the Manhattan School of Music in 2005. She now works a full-time administrative job, making about $50,000 a year, in addition to freelancing as a flutist and playing in a flute and piano duo.

“If you were to take away my administrative job, the $22,000 a year makes perfect sense,” said Ms. Izzo, who lives in Brooklyn.

Joshua Goodman, a Harvard University economist focused on higher-education, said the data were important; he said its inclusion of students who didn’t graduate was helpful because a marker of success in the labor market is completing a degree, and part of a college’s job was helping students to graduate.

But, he said, a former student’s earnings may not necessarily reflect a school’s strength: “If you go to Columbia and NYU and have higher earnings, it may be because Columbia and NYU are great institutions, but presumably some part of that is [because] you started with a stronger academic background.”