Brookings: Oxy Adds Value


Occidental College alumni get a greater economic boost from their degrees than their peers at most top-ranked liberal arts colleges, according to a new Brookings Institution analysis.

Drawing on government data and private sources such as LinkedIn and Payscale, the report attempts to quantify college "value-added," the difference between alumni outcomes such as salaries and the outcomes predicted by a student’s characteristics and the type of institution.

Based on such criteria, Oxy ranks No. 12 (in a tie with Swarthmore) in mid-career earnings of the typical graduate, and No. 13 (tied with Trinity and Carleton) in occupational earnings power of the typical graduate.

"Compared to popular college rankings, the value-added method focuses on how well colleges contribute to student economic success, rather than simply their ability to attract top students," a Brookings press release says.

The study narrows its analysis to salaries and other earnings-related outcomes primarily because these are the metrics for which the most data is available, acknowledge the study’s authors, Brookings Fellow Jonathan Rothwell and Senior Research Assistant Siddharth Kulkarni.

"We believe the benefits of an Occidental education extend far beyond purely economic returns, but we’re glad to have additional confirmation that an Oxy education is a good investment," said Vincent Cuseo, vice president for admission and financial aid.

Brookings’ attempt to control for institution type as well as for the students a college or university enrolls is a key difference from other college rankings, the authors argue. That makes it possible to compare the performance of an individual institution's graduates with those of institutions with similar characteristics and students.

The study also provides value-added scores on at least one economic outcome for as many as 4,400 two- and four-year colleges and universities, as compared to the 600 or fewer schools ranked by U. S. News & World Report and other well-known rankings.

According to Rothwell, and Kulkarni, five quality factors seem to be key to how well students perform economically after graduation:

  • Curriculum value: The amount earned by people who hold degrees in a field offered by the college;
  • Alumni skills: The average labor market value of skills listed on resumes;
  • STEM orientation: The share of graduates prepared to work in STEM occupations;
  • Completion rates: The share earning their degrees within four years for a two-year college and eight years for a four-year college; and
  • Student aid: The average financial support offered by the institution.

The report, "Beyond College Rankings: A Value-Added Approach to Assessing Two and FourYear Schools," by Brookings Fellow Jonathan Rothwell and Senior Research Assistant Siddharth Kulkarni, can be found here.