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Letter to the Wall Street Journal on VLDS story

William & Mary submitted the following letter to the Wall Street Journal in response to the Feb. 11 article “Push to Gauge Bang for Buck from College Gains Steam" on the Virginia Longitudinal Data System (VLDS). –Ed.

Dear Editor:

The Feb. 11 article “Push to Gauge Bang for Buck from College Gains Steam” outlined steps some states, including Virginia, are taking to better inform students about earning potential based on schools and degrees.

The idea itself is a good one.  But the picture remains very incomplete.  The data in question was taken from a report by the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV).  SCHEV is to be commended for taking on this enormous task, and it is the first to explain that there are serious gaps in the data.

Drawing on this data, a WSJ graphic listed William & Mary seventh of 10 public universities in Virginia based on average salaries for recent graduates with bachelor’s degrees. A tiny note at the bottom of the graphic reads “Data does not include salaries of graduates who are self-employed, work for the U.S. Government or have moved to another state.” Nor does the data include any recent graduates who are pursuing advanced degrees.

What do these limitations mean? A lot. Only 22% -- roughly one in five -- of William & Mary’s recent graduates are included in the report, 78% are not.

Further, looking only at salary for a first job discounts the lifelong value of a degree -- even if focused on the narrow measure of earning potential.  According to an annual salary report by PayScale, which has its own limitations but does provide a better picture of alumni nationwide, William & Mary graduates enjoy the greatest career growth from starting to mid-career salary of any public university in Virginia.  By mid-career, William & Mary graduates earn the 14th-highest median salary of all state schools nationwide.

Brian Whitson (Williamsburg, Va.)

Associate Vice President, Communications

William & Mary