ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The federal Department of Education, in its most recent scorecard of American universities and colleges, says students who enrolled in the University of New Mexico and sought financial aid subsequently made about $5,000 less than the national median for their peers from all colleges.
But UNM’s provost says that report’s calculation isn’t fair and doesn’t reflect the reality of UNM’s main campus.
The College Scorecard, which calculates the median salary of former students of more than 7,000 colleges and universities in the nation, said that UNM’s median student earning was $35,900 a year.
That’s the median salary they made 10 years after they first enrolled. The typical four-year college student’s median earnings were $40,500, according to the scorecard.
Provost Chaouki Abdallah said the $35,900 for UNM is skewed because the DOE included salaries from UNM students at satellite campuses, which are two-year programs in more rural locations.
And, he said, it includes people who didn’t even graduate.
“You have to be careful,” Abdallah said. “Here it’s (the data) just incomplete and misinterpreted.”
Although the scorecard is billed as a snapshot of graduate salaries, it actually includes any student who applied for financial aid for that institution regardless of whether they graduated or what program they attended.
The scorecard authors acknowledged some of these problems in their final report.
“However, relative to other publicly available data sources that have their own limitations, the data are still likely to be a significant improvement” for students and parents making college decisions, the report says.
And it is accurate for the data the DOE had access to, DOE spokeswoman Denise Horn said.
“It’s not an error. The data are reported for all campuses in a single number and duplicated across multiple campuses as a way to provide data to students at all campuses, while working within the limitations of how institutions choose to report their data,” Horn said in a statement.
The department took data from schools’ financial aid applications and matched them to federal income tax information 10 years after initial enrollment. The scorecard does not take into account salaries of people who never applied for financial aid. It does not include people who aren’t working or who are still enrolled in school.
“The typical four-year college’s median earnings are $40,500 while the corresponding number is $29,800 for two-year and $24,550 for less-than-two-year,” according to the scorecard report.
Many schools use a flagship campus as the collection point for all financial aid applications, including satellite campuses. So in New Mexico, the median salary at the Albuquerque campus of UNM is the same as the median salary for UNM campuses in Gallup, Los Alamos and Valencia, according to the scorecard.
“This is the best they can do, but this is not careful use” of data, Abdallah said.
And it does a disservice to UNM and likely other schools in the same circumstances, he said, because it doesn’t truly capture the value of an education from the institution, or from college in general.
New Mexico State University is in the same situation as UNM. The report lists its main campus graduates as earning the same as graduates from its branches: $33,800.
Elsewhere in the state, the New Mexico Institute of Technology and Science’s graduates earned the highest median salary at $52,800.
Highlands University graduates earned $35,100; Western New Mexico graduates earned $31,200; and Eastern New Mexico graduates earned $30,200.
Schools in Texas and Colorado are calculated by campus, not by university system. For example, students from the University of Texas campus in Austin have a median salary of $52,800 and those from San Antonio have a $44,400 median salary.
The University of Colorado’s Denver campus median salary is $73,800, while the school’s Boulder campus median salary is $48,000. Several schools in Arizona did not provide data.
The median calculation takes into account all fields, including the highest salary and lowest salary fields.
“It doesn’t give you an accurate picture” of the University of New Mexico or of college students’ salaries as a whole, Abdallah said.
State-calculated data from Workforce Solutions is more accurate for New Mexico salaries, he said.
The most recent data from that state department looks at graduates from UNM in 2006 and 2007 and reports that seven years after their graduation, they were earning an average of $40,000. And of the graduates who stayed in New Mexico, 50 percent reported salaries of $40,000 and greater and about 350 earned more than $100,000.