Life After High School

by Ricardo Castillo


For many high school students, deciding what to do after graduation is overwhelming.  Even those who choose to go onto a form of higher education still have to figure out which schools to apply to, and for students in low-income households, picking not only the right school but also an affordable one can feel impossible.  With this in mind, we at OutlooK-12 have created a new section called Life After High School where we will offer information and resources that will hopefully help make this decision a little easier.  

For our first installment, we are focusing on a tool available through the Department of Education—the College Scorecard.  Available at https://collegescorecard.ed.gov this online search engine allows students to find schools based on programs/degrees, location, size and name as well as by advanced search parameters like whether or not the school is public or private, has a religious affiliation, is for men or women only or is a Hispanic-serving institution.  The site also offers information on financial aid available (including a way to calculate it online) and the benefits of GI Bills.  At the time of publication, the College Scorecard’s website listed the following as the top ranking schools based on financial considerations and student outcomes.

The conclusions and projections offered in the text accompanying the charts are solely those of the Department of Education.

Find a Community College in Your State with High Salaries

These public, two-year (community) colleges have the highest earnings of any community college in the state. Note that earnings might vary significantly depending on the program you study – for instance, some of these schools offer a large number of technical or health programs that tend to be higher-earning majors. Students who transfer to a four-year college and graduate with a bachelor’s degree may also earn more after college. Ask the colleges you are considering attending for more information.

Note: These data include only public institutions identified as less-than-four-year schools in IPEDS. In addition, calculations exclude: 
Institutions that do not appear on the College Scorecard consumer website (e.g., institutions that do not award associate or bachelor’s degrees).

Institutions that are campuses sharing their earnings data with a four-year college campus (i.e., institutions that share a six-digit OPE ID). 

Institutions with fewer than 500 degree/certificate seeking undergraduates.

The list is constructed of the remaining institutions in each state with the highest median earnings. Typical earnings reflect the median earnings of federal financial aid recipients 10 years after they first enrolled at the institution. Net price reflects the sticker price, less any grant or scholarship aid, for all federal financial aid recipients at the school. There are two institutions represented for the state of Massachusetts because two different institutions had the same median earnings in that state, which are the highest among the comparison institutions. 

Affordable Four-year Schools with Good Outcomes

These four-year public colleges offer their students an affordable higher education, with relatively high salaries. As students weigh the costs and benefits of higher education, it’s especially important to find schools that can offer them the best possible outcomes. For students looking for a high return on investment, these institutions may offer good opportunities.

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Note: These data include only public institutions identified as predominantly four-year institutions by the College Scorecard. In addition, calculations exclude institutions with fewer than 500 undergraduate degree-seeking students enrolled. The list is constructed of the remaining public four-year institutions that fall in the top 25 percent of all predominantly four-year institutions for median earnings 10 years after beginning enrollment and for low net price. Typical earnings reflect the median earnings of federal financial aid recipients 10 years after they first enrolled at the institution. Net price reflects the sticker price, less any grant or scholarship aid, for all federal financial aid recipients at the school. Percentile calculations are derived using institutions’ Unitid as the unit of analysis. List includes only institutions also featured in College Navigator and excludes institutions that are not main campus locations.

26 Four-year Public and Private Colleges with Low Costs and High Salaries

These four-year public and private nonprofit colleges enroll more than 40 percent low-income students at the school and have good outcomes for those students. All of them boast above-average Pell enrollment, an affordable net price and good graduation rates for their students (including their low-income students). That’s important, because graduating from college has been shown to lead to higher earnings, lower unemployment and a lower likelihood of defaulting on their loans.

The Department of Education highlighted these schools in its recent report, Fulfilling the Promise, Serving the Need, which identified institutions that were doing well in enrolling and graduating low-income students.

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Typical earnings reflect the median earnings of federal financial aid recipients 10 years after they first enrolled at the institution. Net price reflects the sticker price, less any grant or scholarship aid. Graduation rate reflects the share of first-time, full-time students at the school who completed within six years. For schools where Education Trust was able to collect data, we also used the graduation rates of first-time, full-time Pell Grant recipients at the school to identify the institutions. While the share of undergraduate students who received Pell Grants in a given year is a measure of the access an institution provides to low-income students, it may not capture all low-income students. Students who are undocumented immigrants or foreign nationals are not eligible to receive Pell Grants, and some low-income students may not have completed the FAFSA to receive federal aid, but those students may have similar financial circumstances to Pell recipients, or may be just on the other side of Pell eligibility, creating a cliff effect. Additionally, in some states (such as California), state financial aid may be sufficient to cover costs at community colleges, in particular; so those students may not seek or receive a Pell Grant. More information is available in Appendix A of the Department of Education report.

25 Community Colleges that Advance Opportunities for Low-income Students

These public, two-year (community) colleges enroll more than 40 percent low-income students at the school and have relatively high outcomes for those students. In total, low-income students at these schools averaged at least $30,000 in earnings 10 years after they first enrolled at the school. In addition, more than 70 percent of all borrowers at these schools were successfully repaying their loans three years after they left school. It’s important to know that both the college you select and the program you enroll in can have an impact on your post-college earnings – schools that offer more technical or health programs, or where a lot of students transfer to a four-year college, often have higher earnings. Ask the colleges you are considering attending for more information.

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Note: These data include only public institutions identified as less-than-four-year schools in IPEDS. In addition, calculations exclude:

Institutions that do not appear on the College Scorecard consumer website (e.g., institutions that do not award associate or bachelor’s degrees).

Institutions where fewer than 40 percent of students are Pell Grant recipients.

Institutions with fewer than 250 undergraduate degree-seeking students enrolled.

Institutions with missing data or small n-sizes on repayment, earnings or graduation rate.

The list is constructed of the remaining community colleges that have a repayment rate of at least 70 percent and average earnings of at least $30,000 for students in the lowest income category (tercile). Average earnings reflect the average earnings of federal financial aid recipients 10 years after they first enrolled at the institution for the lowest income category. Repayment rate reflects the share of undergraduate student borrowers who had paid down at least $1 of their principal balance at three years after entering repayment. Net price reflects the sticker price, less any grant or scholarship aid, for all federal financial aid recipients at the school. Share of low-income students enrolled reflects the share of undergraduate students at the school who received Pell Grants. While the share of undergraduate students who received Pell Grants in a given year is a measure of the access an institution provides to low-income students, it may not capture all low-income students. Students who are undocumented immigrants or foreign nationals are not eligible to receive Pell Grants, and some low-income students may not have completed the FAFSA to receive federal aid, but those students may have similar financial circumstances to Pell recipients, or may be just on the other side of Pell eligibility, creating a cliff effect. Additionally, in some states (such as California), state financial aid may be sufficient to cover costs at community colleges, in particular; so those students may not seek or receive a Pell Grant.