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Is A College Degree Worth It? A New Kansas Website Helps Answer That Question

Sam Zeff

  How much does a college degree cost? What kind of salary will an engineering student make when they graduate? What about an English major?

Starting Wednesday crunching those numbers will get a lot easier for students who are looking at a state university in Kansas. There’s now one-stop shopping for students and parents looking at Kansas universities.

"So this really started with the Kansas Legislature, who thought transparency around both cost and earnings data was really important for prospective students to have," says Breeze Richardson, communications director at the Kansas Board of Regents and a driving force behind the tool that provides that transparency in a pretty easy to use, interactive way.

Getting to that point though has been a bit of a bumpy road.

When the idea first surfaced last session from state Sen. Jeff Melcher, a Republican from Leawood, there was a little bit of a panic.

The information he wanted for parents and educators simply didn’t exist, so it was estimated it would cost the Regents and universities up to $6 million to make it happen.

But Richardson says after some investigation and a little work with the universities, they found a way to gather the data for a fraction of the cost.

So starting later today you can go to ksdegreestats.org and find an enormous amount of information such as the typical cost of a particular degree, including tuition, fees plus room and board.

"We also have wage information published here. So you can see the percent of program graduates that are employed in Kansas and their earnings, both when they first went into the work force and after five years," says Richardson.

That wage information comes directly from the Kansas Department of Labor.

Sen. Melcher says the new tool far exceeded his expectations and says it will particularly help first-time college families.

“They’ve always had an expectation that you would graduate from college and you would be set for life. Well, that expectation is not reality," says Melcher. "This will give them a tool to understand what, if they take this particular course of study what they’re going to earn after they graduate and will then a sense of realistic expectation.”

So to test out the site we went to Olathe East High School and had assistant principal Jennifer Noteboom, a former counselor, take a look.

Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR
Olathe East High School Assistant Principal Jennifer Noteboom likes the interactivity of the new website.

She was impressed and says it's useful for both parents and school counselors.

"I think the parents would use it more so for the funding just to see the difference in costs. I think the students would use to look at what the average wage could be once they get out of school," she says. "I think a lot of times they look at what they want to do but they have no idea how much money you’re going to make once you’re in that field."

Noteboom likes that you can adjust scholarship and loan information and that the site will estimate monthly repayment costs after graduation.

The site is totally about the bottom line. How much does a degree cost and what do you make?

But Noteboom says it’s critical that parents and students also visit the campus to see how it feels.

Richardson says while it’s nice to see how much accountants and engineers make, there’s plenty of other things in the world.

"I, myself, was encouraged to get a liberal arts education by my parents. To go and explore and I think there’s still a vast number of individuals who are interested in promoting the idea that studying for the art of studying is really valuable."

Richardson says right now the site just has one year of information, but as new tuition and salary data come in, the numbers will adjust.

And she says the Regents are close to making a deal with the Missouri Department of Labor of salary information, making the site more useful for students in Kansas City.

Sam Zeff is an education reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can find him on Twitter, @samzeff.

You deserve to know what your taxpayer dollars are paying for and what public officials are doing on your behalf – I’ll work to report on irresponsible government spending in the Kansas City area and shed light on controversies that slow government down. And when you hear my voice in the morning, you know you’re getting everything you need to start your day. Email me at sam@kcur.org, find me on Twitter @samzeff or call me at 816-235-5004.
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