“Salary After Attending” & the Christian College

Last week’s post about the Department of Education’s College Scorecard touched on one challenge that Christian liberal arts colleges and universities face: the “hard data” shows that graduates of these schools tend to earn slightly below-average to average incomes compared to college graduates across the board.

At first glance, this looks like bad news for Christian liberal arts schools. Numbers don’t lie. Or do they? The problem is that the “Salary After Attending” data is a pretty blunt instrument; it doesn’t account for the earning potential of one career field or major compared to the earning potential of another. If your graduates go into the fields of teaching, ministry, and counseling, their salaries will lag behind the salaries of doctors and CPAs and engineers. The only reliable way to improve your “Salary After Attending” figure is to be a different kind of school.

So if you don’t want to be a different kind of school, how do you answer the questions that many prospective parents will ask after looking at your school’s Scorecard?

First, it is helpful to remind them that when it comes to salary, the real point of comparison isn’t an across-the-board average, but the average within a particular field. The College Scorecard, unfortunately, doesn’t provide that data. It does, however, allow you to compare data among specific schools. If prospective students and their parents compare your data to that of other schools they’re interested in, that becomes another, more manageable conversation.

But more importantly, it is vital that you reframe the conversation. If you define return on investment strictly in terms of net cost of attendance and average salaries, any liberal arts school is going to find it very hard to compete with a state school. But when it comes to a Christian liberal arts college, the real return on investment comes down to benefits that are both greater and less quantifiable than potential earnings.

Let's talk about your school's messaging and how to address these challenges in your recruiting materials.