Skip to main content

Education & The Energy Workforce Workshop Series

“Assessment of STEM Higher Education”
January 21, 2015

UH Energy hosted its third energy workforce workshop on the topic “Assessment of STEM Higher Education” and featured guest speaker Dr. Mark Schneider of American Institutes for Research. The workshop was moderated by Wallace Dominey from the University of Houston.

Dr. Schneider opened his lecture with a brief introduction of how STEM higher education has formerly been assessed.  Previously, institutions were evaluated based on student access; focus then shifted to retention and graduation rates. Now, priority seems to be on post-graduation success. During his presentation, Schneider raised two imperative questions, “are students getting jobs and are students making money?” Out of the students polled, 86% of students attributed money-making jobs as the primary reason for pursuing higher education. Schneider uses the percentage of income used to service debt after graduation as a way to measure program success. Although he acknowledged other benefits of higher education, he pointed out that earning outcomes are easier to track than learning outcomes.

comparison of credentials awarded in US from 2008 to 2012

Dr. Schneider concluded that “sub baccalaureate degrees are the wave of today.” His data indicates that the number of associate’s degrees granted has risen 39% from 2008 to 2013, and most impressively, the number of granted certificate degrees taking one to two years to complete has risen by 85% from 2008 to 2013. He noted that last year, the total number of sub baccalaureate degrees granted surpassed the total number of bachelor’s degrees granted.  

Dr. Schneider then compared wage earnings among completers of certificate programs, associate’s degrees and bachelor’s degrees.

Highest and Lowest Paying Certificates in Texas

His data shows that graduates with certificates who learned ‘how to fix things’ are more highly paid after one year. In Texas the highest paid graduates of certificate programs stem from Communications Systems Installation and Repair Technology. Graduates with certificates who learned ‘how to fix people’ are more highly paid after graduation. Radiologic Technology graduates are the most highly paid in Texas. The graph below shows a strong correlation between starting wage incomes and ending wage incomes. Wage earners with certificates who start with low incomes one year after completion continue to earn low incomes ten years after completion. And conversely, a high starting wage one year after completion generally leads to a high wage ten years after completion. The high earners in Texas have some variation of a technologist/technician degree.

Moving on to graduates with associate’s degrees, his data shows a large difference between the academic and technical two-year degree options. Completers with a two-year technical degree make substantially more than completers with a two-year academic degree and Schneider identified this to be consistent by region and program. In Dr. Schneider’s words, “what you study is more important than where you study.”

Two year technical degrees are valuable: Texas

When looking at wages from graduates with bachelor’s degrees, the above graph shows again that it’s not necessary to go to the flagship school to earn a comparable income.  His data also shows that graduates with liberal arts degrees consistently earn less in their first year than graduates with engineering degrees. For example, graduates with a bachelor’s in petroleum engineering are the highest paid in Texas. But then he questioned whether this holds true ten years after graduation. Similar to graduates with certificate degrees, if wages are low one year after graduation, they will most likely be low ten years after graduation.

Programs with Bachelor’s Graduates Having Lowest and Highest First-Year Earnings by States

Next, Dr. Schneider explained a good way to compare schools by looking at the percent of wages after graduation that goes toward debt servicing. He said a good rule of thumb is that debt should not exceed first year earnings. If that holds true, then no more than 11% of gross first year earnings will be spent repaying loans. He then said, however, that it is better still to compare schools at the program level.  For example, earning a degree in anthropology from Texas Tech University might cost a student 35% of their first year earnings to service the loan. However, students earning the same degree from the University of Houston only spend about 9% of income repaying debt their first year.

Comparison of Loan to Wage Ratio of Texas Universities: Bachelor of Science in Anthropology

To conclude, Dr. Schneider showed examples of web tools that place rankings in the hands of individuals.

Currently, Dr. Schneider and the American Institutes for Research are working on providing secondary and intermediate schools the opportunity to compare profession wages and select a higher education institution based on the program best fitting every student seeking a higher education or certification in specific programs.

All data used in Mark Schneider’s presentation can be accessed from the American Institutes for Research and the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research.

Authored by Rachel Henton