Study shows little upward mobility for Columbia grads

By Connor Carynski, Campus Reporter

Gabriel de la Mora
Study shows little upward mobility for Columbia grads

Columbia students preparing for a career in the arts may be headed for financial disappointment.

The “Mobility Report Cards: The Role of Colleges in Intergenerational Mobility” study, done by The Equality of Opportunity Project, projects the median income of Columbia graduates ages 32–34 at $28,500, less than the median income of high school graduates of about $30,000, according to a study by the National Center for Educational Statistics. 

Researchers from Stanford University; University of California, Berkley; Brown University; and the U.S. Treasury published the study in January 2017 to estimate the median wages students are expected to earn and their chances of rising to a higher economic class. The study used data from federal income tax returns and the Department of Education for information regarding student earnings in early adulthood.

“This project aims to shed some light on how people fare later on in life at different schools,” said Nick Flamang, a pre-doctoral fellow with the Equality of Oppurtunity Project who assisted in the research.

Data from the study indicates that Columbia students are projected to earn the 42nd lowest paid salaries out of the 54 Chicagoland colleges involved in the study. Expected salaries from other Chicago schools include Robert Morris University at $30,400, Chicago State University at $31,900 and DePaul University at $51,300. Colleges ranking below Columbia include the School of the Art Institute of Chicago at $25,500 and City Colleges of Chicago at $25,300.

In a Jan. 27 emailed statement to The Chronicle, college spokeswoman Anjali Julka stated, “The college appreciates the EOP data as they only reinforce the need for a stronger curriculum and ensuring higher graduation and retention rates, in order to enhance the student learning experience and post-graduation success. The college is already addressing this need through its Strategic Plan.”

The News Office declined interviews with Senior Vice President and Provost Stanley Wearden and Vice President of Student Success Sharon Wilson-Taylor.

The Institutional Effectiveness Office cited the average alumni salaries of $46,984 in its 2015 alumni survey that The News Office said included 1,197 respondents, or 8 percent of requested alumni, both employed and unemployed.

The annual salary provided in the 2017 report is equivalent to $13.70 an hour, assuming individuals are working full time at 40 hours a week for 52 weeks. The study includes students who attended Columbia from 1999–2004 and focuses on individuals who were born in the 1980–1982 cohort.

According to Flamang, the incomes of 32–34-year-old individuals were used because income typically stabilizes at the age of 32. Later cohorts cannot be used because the data can be uncertain if students are in graduate classes or med school and not making the entirety of their expected salary, he added.

Simone Salis, a senior theatre major, said it is disappointing to invest in an education that may not yield return. Salis added that though he did not know of a way to make students more valuable, the college could better balance expected income and tuition costs.

“When you pay full tuition now, it is very close to that amount of money you are expected to make yearly,” Salis said.

The Mobility Report Card was compared to information from the College Scorecard database, created by the U.S Department of Education. The two studies were found to have similar median earnings according to treasury notes posted on the U.S. Department of the Treasury website by Adam Looney, deputy assistant secretary for tax analysis for the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

“Clearly, the data shows if the only outcome you are concerned about is earnings later in life, looking at the data, there seem to be some schools that deliver more bang for the buck, in terms of how wealthy they are and how good outcomes later in life are,” Flamang said.

Erik J. Friedman, associate dean of Career Development and Industry Relations for the Career Center, said students who are concerned about the findings of the study should consult him or career coordinators about the expected earnings of their fields. 

“Different fields have different starting salaries, some are more than others, and it’s good to have knowledge about what to expect when you graduate regarding income if you’re taking on debt to come to college,” Friedman said.

Friedman said students concerned with income may need to consider more conservative options, which could include still attending Columbia but with a different major.

Information about a student’s likelihood to rise from the lowest 20 percent economic situation to the top 20 percent, or upward mobility, is also included in the report.

Columbia students coming from the lowest income households about 10.3 percent of the students attending Columbia from 1999–2004, were found to have a 9 percent chance of reaching the highest economic quintile.

American’s born into the lowest income tier have an 8 percent chance of rising to the highest income tier, according to a Jan. 23, 2014, NPR article. 

The median parent income of the students involved in the study was $85,100 compared with the Fall 2016 Semester freshman class, which had a median parent income of $80,591.

Of the 54 higher educational institutions cited in the study, Columbia ranks 48th in the upward mobility rate of its graduating students in regards to parent income

These rates may have changed because of the college’s increase in institutional aid from $18,625,224 in 2012 to $37,533,315 in 2016, which could increase the access of low-income students and their likelihood of success, though there is no data to indicate this change in the success rate. The creation of the Career Center in Fall 2016 may have also had an impact on the success of current students.

Friedman said students who want to be successful need to build experience for their resumes by participating organizations and finding internships that are critical before graduating. 

“You can’t come to college, be lazy and think going to classes and doing nothing else is going to give you a guaranteed job,” Friedman said. “In today’s culture and climate, you have to do extra work to go above and beyond to make yourself successful.”