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STOCKTON — Next to purchasing a house, paying for college is likely the biggest investment any of us will make in our lifetime. However, it can be difficult to determine what you’re getting for your money. Will that four-year degree help you earn more after graduation? How much debt will you take on?
In September, the U.S. Department of Education released its College Scorecard. The Scorecard offers updated, comprehensive data for both current and prospective college students and allows you to compare schools side-by-side.
The tool, which you can find at the College Scorecard website helps users quickly compare schools in any given region by graduation rate, cost to attend and salary after attending.
Here is how the schools in our area, the University of the Pacific, California State University, Stanislaus and the University of California, Merced scored:
Average Annual Cost: $30,318 | Graduation Rate: 57% | Average Annual Salary $66,400
University of the Pacific ranked eighth overall when compared to 119 other California public and private four-year institutions, based on alumni average salaries. According to the Scorecard, Pacific graduates earn an average of $66,400 per year 10 years after starting classes.
“The Scorecard confirms that Pacific offers its students an excellent return on investment,” President Pamela A. Eibeck said in a press release. “It also underscores the importance of Pacific as an engine for social mobility in California. Our standing is a reflection of our dedicated, teaching-focused faculty and the hard work and talent of our exceptional students.”
The annual cost of attending Pacific, the area’s only private non-profit four-year college, is $30,318. According to the Scorecard, 63 percent of students receive federal student loans, and the typical student debt is $23,500.
The Scorecard also reported Pacific’s six-year graduation rate is 57 percent — well above the national average of 44 percent based on 2013 data using the same six-year model.
That number, however, takes into account the students in accelerated programs who move on to pharmacy, dentistry or law school without earning a bachelor’s degree. If those students are removed from the equation, the graduation rate comes out to 67.1 percent.
Improving graduation rates is an ongoing effort at Pacific. Pacific recently received a $1.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to support students who need extra academic support such as financial or personal counseling, career guidance or help with graduate and professional school applications.
Average Annual Cost: $7,797 | Graduation Rate: 50% | Average Annual Salary $44,900
When it comes to annual salary, California State University, Stanislaus in Turlock did not crack the top 20. The College Scorecard reported the median salary of a Stanislaus State graduate 10 years after entering the school was $44,900.
However, that the average annual cost of attendance was reported as $7,797, the most affordable four-year university in our area.
The average graduate will typically have accrued $16,500 in debt during his or her time at Stanislaus State. About 43 percent of the university’s students rely on federal loans to help pay for school.
The Scorecard also showed a graduation rate above the national average. Fifty percent of students graduate within six years, according to the Scorecard’s formula. Brian VanderBeek from Stanislaus State’s Communications and Public Affairs however, reported an even higher six-year graduation rate of 53.3 percent based on fall 2008 first-time freshman. The four-year graduation rate came in at just 15.6 percent.
Stanislaus State has launched PACE (Program for Academic & Career Excellence) in an effort to increase those numbers. Its goal is to serve the campus’s Hispanic and underserved or first-generation college students to increase graduation rates. The federally funded program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education uses a variety of tools and strategies to help more of those students graduate and become mentors and leaders in their communities.
Average Annual Cost: $11,921 | Graduation Rate: 57% | Average Annual Salary NA
The first class of students at UC Merced arrived in 2005, making it the newest public university campus in California. Because it is a young university, the college Scorecard was unable to rank UC Merced based on annual income of alumni 10 years after starting classes.
Regardless of its newness, the Scorecard was still able to report a graduation rate of 57 percent — above the national average. UC Merced has claimed a graduation rate of 63.6 percent based on the 2008 cohort, a large jump when compared to the school’s previously reported numbers of 58.2 percent, 58.1 percent and 56.7 percent for the 2005, 2006 and 2007 cohorts respectively.
“Early indications are that the 2009 cohort will be a bit higher still,” said UC Merced Director of News and Social Media James Leonard, “But those numbers won’t be official until December.”
UC Merced received a grant of $1 million similar to Stanislaus State’s to help increase graduation rates by assisting underrepresented students. The program, announced in August, will fit into the Calvin E. Bright Success Center and will also focus on helping students to declare a major, as those who are undeclared are shown to be more likely to drop out. (Read more about the grants in our story on page 1).
The Scorecard reported the average annual cost of attendance at UC Merced to be $11,921. The average student (58 percent of whom received federal grants) will carry a debt of $19,559 upon graduation.