When we evaluate a university’s outcomes–graduation rates, employment success, etc.–how much of it is a function of what the university does, and how much is determined by things the university doesn’t have much influence over: where it is located, the background of their students before they enroll, etc.?
We discussed here how student loan default rates, for example, can be predicted with great accuracy, as a function of the proportion of Pell grant recipients. The greater the number of students with financial need a university serves, the higher the probability that its graduates will end up defaulting on their loans. We used that correlation to highlight the fact that Mason’s default rates are not just best-in-class in absolute terms, but even when factoring in the financial need of our students.
Two new rankings, one by The Economist and one by Brookings Institution, released last week, take this idea one step further. They estimate through multiple regression the expected earnings of a university’s graduates based on factors that are not directly controlled by the university–location, type, student demographics, etc.–and then compare that prediction with the actual average earnings of that university’s graduates. If graduates of a university earn more than what could be statistically predicted, one can fairly conclude that the university is adding real value to its students.
I’m delighted to see Mason listed in the 96th percentile in The Economist ranking and score 90 out of 100 in the Brookings ranking.
Let’s dig a little deeper.
The Economist compared how much students earn after graduating to what they would be statistically predicted to earn had they attended another school based on data from all 1,275 schools in their data set. Mason ranks 40th out of all 1,275 schools. Our graduates’ annual median earnings are more than $7,000 higher than the predicted median earnings had students earned a degree elsewhere.
The Brookings Institution analysis considers the same question of what value a university adds separate from the characteristics of entering students. Their research uses a set of variables to predict earnings that emphasize school curriculum and quality, while controlling for student and school characteristics.
The result is a ranking based on the value added to median earnings 10 years after enrollment, expressed as a score from 1 to 100. Mason earned a score of 90 by improving median earnings over 21 percent compared to the predicted earnings.
Earnings, of course, do not capture the entire value of higher education. We offer so much more. But these analyses help capture at least one important dimension of value added: the economic benefit that a university provides based on its own educational approach.
The fact that Mason ranks so high in these metrics is a direct reflection of the work of our faculty and our staff. Our location is fantastic but does not explain the full extent of our students’ overall success.