The Texas Public Policy Foundation has released an interactive tool that classifies programs at universities based on average annual earnings, monthly loan payments, students’ average debt-to-earnings ratio, and gainful employment equivalent status. The debt-to-earnings ratio is calculated by dividing the median debt of graduates who borrowed by median earnings. The ranking also uses the Gainful Employment Equivalent (GEE), which is an updated version of the Gainful Employment regulations introduced by the Obama administration to evaluate for-profit programs. The gainful employment equivalent status evaluates students’ annual loan payments against annual earnings while factoring in the poverty line; if students’ average debt-to-earnings ratio indicates they are able to pay their monthly loan payments based on one-year post-graduation median earnings, then the program receives a Pass.
Focusing on branches of the University of Alaska system reveals that, while most programs with sufficient data pass the gainful employment test, some debt–to–earnings ratios are better than others. Students need to be mindful that high annual earnings are not the only mark of success – being able to repay the debt incurred to obtain the degree is critical. This report uses the tool to examine Bachelor’s degrees and all degrees at the University of Alaska Anchorage as well as all degrees at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, examining only those programs with complete data.
Examining the 10 majors with the highest annual earnings for bachelor’s programs at the University of Alaska – Anchorage reveals that the Registered Nursing program had the highest average annual earnings of $70,700. These burgeoning nurses averaged a debt–to–earnings ratio of 35 percent, the lowest of the top 10, with a mean debt of $27,215 and an average monthly loan payment of $258. Of the top 10, the Criminal Justice and Corrections program averaged the lowest annual earnings of $37,400 and the highest debt-to-earnings ratio of 63 percent. Though mean debt was only $22,261 and monthly loan payments averaged $245, both less than the Registered Nursing Program, the debt-to-earnings ratio shows that the Criminal Justice and Corrections program may be less lucrative in the long run.
Table 1: Top 10 Bachelor’s Programs at University of Alaska Anchorage
|Academic Field||Median Debt||Mean Debt||Annual Earnings||Monthly Loan Payment||Debt–to–Earnings Ratio (%)||Gainful Employment Equivalent Status|
|Registered Nursing, Nursing Administration, Nursing Research and Clinical Nursing.||24,870||27,215||70,700||258||35.18||Pass|
|Accounting and Related Services.||25,815||26,371||52,100||268||49.55||Pass|
|Finance and Financial Management Services.||23,877||27,165||48,500||248||49.23||Pass|
|Business Administration, Management and Operations.||25,000||24,224||45,800||259||54.59||Pass|
|Teacher Education and Professional Development, Specific Levels and Methods.||22,000||23,452||42,200||228||52.13||Pass|
|Criminal Justice and Corrections.||23,635||22,261||37,400||245||63.20||Pass|
Think Bachelor’s degrees are the only way to make college pay off? Not necessarily. Of the top 10 programs at the University of Alaska Anchorage across all levels in Table 2, Associate’s degrees averaged the second and third-highest annual earnings and reported the lowest debt-to-earnings ratios. The Health/Medical Preparatory Programs Associate’s degree reported a debt-to-earnings ratio of 26 percent, with annual earnings of $68,200 and mean debt of $20,719. The Industrial Production Technologies/Technicians degree at UA – Anchorage reported average annual earnings of $63,400, a mean debt of $18,383, and a debt-to-earnings ratio of 25 percent.
Where are advanced degrees in this ranking? The only Master’s degree with complete salary and debt data, Social Work, averaged annual earnings of $51,800 and mean debt of $33,400, yielding a debt-to-earnings ratio of 63 percent. This is worse than all other majors (with complete data) at UA – Anchorage, including associate’s degrees and bachelor’s degrees. Though this singular example does not necessarily mean that pursuing advanced degrees is a waste of time, it should caution students who might pursue advanced degrees to avoid a slumping job market, in hopes of receiving higher pay, or simply because they are not sure what else to do.
Table 2: Top 10 Programs at University of Alaska, Anchorage – All Levels
|Academic Field||Level of Degree||Median Debt||Mean Debt||Annual Earnings||Monthly Loan Payment||Debt–to–Earnings Ratio (%)||Gainful Employment Equivalent Status|
|Registered Nursing, Nursing Administration, Nursing Research and Clinical Nursing.||Bachelor’s Degree||24,870||27,215||70,700||258||35.18||Pass|
|Health/Medical Preparatory Programs.||Associate’s Degree||18,000||20,719||68,200||187||26.39||Pass|
|Industrial Production Technologies/Technicians.||Associate’s Degree||16,000||18,383||63,400||166||25.24||Pass|
|Civil Engineering.||Bachelor’s Degree||24,569||24,827||57,700||255||42.58||Pass|
|Engineering, General.||Bachelor’s Degree||25,000||26,951||54,900||259||45.54||Pass|
|Accounting and Related Services.||Bachelor’s Degree||25,815||26,371||52,100||268||49.55||Pass|
|Social Work.||Master’s Degree||32,646||33,400||51,800||380||63.02||Pass|
|Allied Health and Medical Assisting Services.||Associate’s Degree||12,875||17,235||51,700||134||24.90||Pass
|Finance and Financial Management Services||Bachelor’s Degree||23,877||27,165||48,500||248||49.23||Pass|
|Business Administration, Management and Operations||Bachelor’s Degree||25,000||24,224||45,800||259||54.59||Pass|
Data for the University of Alaska Fairbanks is sparser, and thus the top eight programs across all degree types are listed. Those programs marked “Zone” have too high a debt-to-earnings ratio for students to reliably repay their debt but is not a certain “Fail” – it may be worthwhile in certain circumstances for students to pursue these majors. Thus, the General Psychology Bachelor’s degree and the Social Work Bachelor’s degree, with debt-to-earnings ratios of 81 percent and 84 percent respectively, may prove difficult for students to pay back the debt they incurred to earn their degree.
In Fairbanks, the degree with the highest average annual earnings of $63,400 and mean debt of $18,604 was a bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering, which averages a monthly loan repayment of $156. The lowest debt-to-earnings ratio of only 21 percent at UA – Fairbanks was for undergraduate certificates in Vehicle Maintenance and Repair Technologies, which rewarded its students with an average annual salary of $45,600, a mean debt of $10,675, and average monthly debt payments of $99. It’s also worth noting that, for UA – Fairbanks, associate degrees in Industrial Production Technologies/Technicians received the second-highest annual earnings of $56,700, second-lowest monthly debt payments of $146, and one of the lower debt-to-earnings ratios of 25 percent.
Table 3: Top Eight Programs at University of Alaska Fairbanks
|Academic Field||Level of Degree||Debt (Median)||Debt (Mean)||Annual Earnings||Monthly Loan Payment||Debt–to–Earnings Ratio (%)||Gainful Employment Equivalent Status|
|Mechanical Engineering.||Bachelor’s Degree||15,000||18,604||63,400||156||23.66||Pass|
|Industrial Production Technologies/Technicians.||Associate’s Degree||14,087||17,885||56,700||146||24.84||Pass|
|Vehicle Maintenance and Repair Technologies.||Undergraduate Certificate or Diploma||9,500||10,675||45,600||99||20.83||Pass|
|Accounting and Related Services.||Bachelor’s Degree||25,437||25,237||42,900||264||59.29||Pass|
|Business Administration, Management and Operations.||Bachelor’s Degree||18,040||21,340||33,100||187||54.50||Pass|
|Social Work.||Bachelor’s Degree||23,622||25,497||28,200||245||83.77||Zone|
|Liberal Arts and Sciences, General Studies and Humanities.||Associate’s Degree||10,100||16,242||26,700||105||37.83||Pass|
|Psychology, General.||Bachelor’s Degree||21,500||22,917||26,500||223||81.13||Zone|
It is worth mentioning the two majors at the University of Alaska Southeast with complete data, the Master’s in Teacher Education and Professional Development and the Bachelor’s in Business Administration, Management, and Operations; both passed the gainful employment equivalent status and reported debt-to-earnings ratios of 52 and 42 percent, respectively.
Though most of the programs with complete data at UA passed the gainful employment test, some debt-to-earnings ratios are better than others. The data also counters common misconceptions that advanced degrees are necessarily more lucrative than bachelor’s and associate’s degrees. Tools like this empower Alaska’s high school students considering going to the University of Alaska to determine for themselves if the average annual earnings and debt incurred for a degree are a sound financial investment.