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The College Calculation: Factoring In Starting Salary

By Kate Merrill, WBZ-TV
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WBZ-TV's Kate Merrill Kate Merrill
Kate Merrill is an Emmy award winning journalist for WBZ-TV News. She...
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BOSTON (CBS) – More parents and students are asking what they are getting in exchange for the high cost of college.

Anxiety about those large tuition bills is running high as the debt load for graduates now averages $26,000, and good jobs are hard to come by.

Meredith Principe, an advisor at Campus Bound in Lexington, is now seeing college searches changing. “I think there needs to be some practicality in the college search,” she said. “You do need to look beyond just the nice perks, or the environment, or the social experience.”

The new focus for many students is money. Websites like www.payscale.com and www.nerdwallet.com allow applicants to get a sense of what a graduate will make when they enter the workforce.

We decided to check on the differences for a computer programmer. We found a Tufts University graduate averages a starting salary of $108,917. A year at the school costs $58,800.

A Northeastern University programmer could expect a salary of $92,934. Tuition, room, and board comes to $53,226.

A UMass-Amherst graduate makes a little less, $89,722, but an in state student pays $23,167.

Dana Levit, a financial planner at Paragon Advisors in Newton, said, “If the salary is the same, absolutely, why wouldn’t you choose the lower option? The colleges will say there are intangibles, and what else you are getting for your money, but on a dollar for dollar basis, absolutely.”

Levit says the choices become even clearer if a family has to take out student loans, particularly for fields like teaching or social work.

“It is awfully hard to deny your child, but from a logic stand point, you really should look through the numbers and say, does that make sense? What is my child’s life going to look like if they end up in one of those $30,000-$40,000 a year jobs.”

Historically, college has been about the exploration of new ideas, not vocational training.

Marilyn Wohl has a daughter at Boston University and isn’t convinced this new approach provides any guarantees.

“It is what you put into the school,” said Wohl. “You can go to the best school, and I know kids that have gone to great schools, and they are doing nothing. I just don’t think this has value.”

When asked how important these salary searches should be in the overall college selection process, Principe replied, “I do feel that holistically a student needs to think about a lot of different factors when they are choosing a college, and I think earnings potential should just be one part of that process.”

Locally, both M.I.T and Babson College landed in the top ten for schools with the highest starting salaries for their graduates.

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