Quick note: the Gates Foundation’s recent postsecondary report

Watch what is included in datasets and what’s not there

The Gates Foundation released a large group report on post-college career outcomes titled Equitable Value in May. Equitable Value sported some of the unwarranted logical leaps in evaluating the value of college that we had pointed to:

  • A hazy logical connection between more college grads and less inequality/more economic growth;
  • Statistics mostly focussed on medians and averages at the school level with no mention of variability and risk for students within the segments.

Without addressing those leaps in detail, we wanted to briefly focus on a chart included in the Inside Higher Ed story on Equitable Value that may have confused readers:

At the right, Equitable Value presents median incomes of Bachelor’s graduates by ethnic group. These figures may have caused readers some dissonance. If the US Census median income for Bachelor’s holders in 2019 was $59k (up from $57k in 2018), why are most of the medians in the Gates chart larger?

The answer is that the chart only includes full-time workers age 25 and older who worked year round. Gig workers, consultants or those unemployed for part of the year are all excluded – all groups likely to have earned less than the median. For example, there are 2.9mm men of Hispanic origin with Bachelor’s degrees in the US workforce (including those with grad degrees) with median earnings of $60k (2019 US Census, age 25+). But the chart above shows a $65k figure because it includes only the 2.2mm who worked year-round at full-time jobs.

Selecting only the highest-earning workers in a group is a common occurrence in industry data reporting. NACE did exactly this in their 2019 First Destinations report covered earlier. And college reporting on retention is skewed by omitting groups that performed poorly, improving the overall picture. So the takeaway is: watch the dataset! What isn’t there is just as important as what is.

Hechinger Report link

About non-college job openings encountering shortages of workers, the Hechinger Report ran a useful story in 2018 about high school students – often good ones – who preferred to go into blue-collar “trade” careers. Recommended because it includes anecdotes showing the sort of pressures to attend college these students face from their parents and – well, everyone.

You can also read this post and others at our CTAS Higher Ed Business blog.