As California students finish college applications and wait to hear back on ones they’ve already sent in, they can look at plenty of rankings to help them decide where to take their talents.
It would be smart to review a relatively new one, which tries to put a value on a degree from a university, rather than merely measuring the credentials of students who already attend.
For its first-ever college rankings, The Economist magazine used federal information that matches student loan applications with those students’ tax returns a decade later. To calculate how much each university boosts a graduate’s income, it then used a complex analysis to compute how much graduates would be projected to earn.
The useful result (with a handy online search tool) is a ranking of all four-year, non-vocational colleges by the difference in the annual earnings of their alumni above, or below, what would be expected.
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Quite a few California universities rank high – but not the big names atop many other lists.
For instance, the highest-ranking public university is Cal State Bakersfield, whose graduates a decade after getting their degrees earned an average of $48,100 a year – about $11,100 more than expected.
Several Cal State campuses do better than more selective and prestigious UCs. For instance, UCLA comes in at No. 347, while UC Berkeley ranks an abysmal No. 1,141 out of 1,275 colleges ranked, with average income for its alumni nearly $4,200 below expectations.
California’s highest-ranking private school is the University of the Pacific in Stockton, whose graduates earned an average of $66,400 annually, more than $9,900 above expectations. Stanford, by comparison, comes in at No. 256, even though its graduates earn more, an average of $80,900. Because the expected earnings of its grads are so high, Caltech ranks near the very bottom at No. 1,260.
In the Sacramento region, UC Davis is No. 62 (putting it in the top 95 percent), while Sacramento State is a respectable No. 129.
This ranking rewards schools that, like many of their students, overachieve, while penalizing universities, particularly those in booming regions, that attract brilliant students who typically go into high-paying jobs in engineering and technology.
Those behind the study acknowledge its limits. It’s based on 2011 earnings for the entering Class of 2001, so it’s somewhat dated. The federal data cover only students who applied for financial aid, leaving out students from well-off families who typically would earn more. And it tracks earnings for only 10 years, which doesn’t cover doctors and others who are still in school, but will have high incomes later.
Still, this study seems more on the money than other rankings that seem more like popularity contests. And if I were in admissions or public relations at high-ranking schools, I’d get busy bragging about this ranking, if they haven’t already.
By the numbers
National rank for selected California universities, based on annual earnings of their alumni compared to what would be expected:
- 10. Cal State Bakersfield, +$11,072
- 12. University of the Pacific, +$9,921
- 20. Cal State Stanislaus, +$8,519
- 28. Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, +$7,941
- 32. Pepperdine, +$7,644
- 62. UC Davis, +$6,129
- 63. Cal State Dominguez Hills, +$6,124
- 66. UC Santa Barbara, +$6,040
- 78. Cal State Los Angeles, +$5,513
- 86. Cal State San Bernardino, +$5,403
- 129. Sacramento State, +$4,435
- 209. Fresno State, +$3,115
- 236. UC San Diego, +$2,819
- 256. Stanford, +$2,589
- 347. UCLA, +$1,836
- 371. USC, +$1,628
- 1,141. UC Berkeley, -$4,184
- 1,260. Caltech, -$8,129
Source: The Economist