Federal site ranks VCU grads among highest in debt, lowest in wages

Infographic by Miranda Leung

Katy Stanley, Contributing Writer

VCU alumni have the lowest annual salary and the highest student loan debt upon graduation among large, public universities in Virginia, according to a new federal website.

Infographic by Miranda Leung
Infographic by Miranda Leung

The College Scorecard website, compiled by the U.S. Department of Education, shows that VCU graduates earn a median salary of $41,000, which ranks last among the six public universities with a student body of 10,000 or more in Virginia.

Infographic by Miranda Leung
Infographic by Miranda Leung

Graduates of both VCU and Virginia Tech each face an average student loan debt of around $25,000, the highest among large, state universities. University of Virginia graduates have the lowest student debt on average at $19,000. U.Va. graduates also earn a median salary of $58,000 — a difference of more than 40 percent from VCU grads.

VCU also claims the second-lowest graduation rate among large, public universities at 56 percent. Only Old Dominion University, with a 50 percent graduation rate, fares at a lower rate. U.Va.’s graduation rate — 93 percent — ranks highest in the state.

VCU is the fourth most costly state school behind the College of William and Mary, Virginia Military Institute and U.Va. In 2014, due to the political impasse in the Virginia General Assembly, public institutions had to pass their budgets without knowledge of how much funding the state would allocate for the first time since 2006.

Despite this inconvenience, institutional ruling bodies began approving finalized budget plans and tuition increases for state schools in May 2014.

“We didn’t count on any new funding,” said Pamela Currey, the associate vice president for finance and administration at VCU in a 2014 interview. “The Board assumed the state would give us what they gave us last year. That way when the budget crisis hit with the state we weren’t harmed by it because we hadn’t counted on it with our budget.”

Following the state-wide tuition hikes, VCU saw the smallest increase in tuition and fees of the major research universities in Virginia at a 3.3 percent increase for in-state students. The increase at U.Va. was 4.3 percent, 4.8 percent at George Mason University and 4.9 percent at VT.

“This budget puts the university’s academic mission first, including recruiting and retaining our internationally competitive faculty and increasing student financial assistance,” said VCU president Michael Rao in a press release.

Even with its low College Scorecard rankings, VCU is above the national average in both its graduation rate and average annual salary.

Among large public institutions in the state, VCU is ranked second-best in the average annual cost for tuition among students who accept federal, state or university financial aid. The site pegs VCU’s average annual cost at around $18,000.

The website compares institutions based on each school’s affordability, graduation rate, typical student debt and the racial and statistical makeup of the student body. It also features tools to help prospective students calculate their potential financial aid and the average annual cost of attending each particular institution.

According to President Obama, the College Scorecard was released in an effort to keep colleges accountable for their performance and to direct future students to a place they can easily compare colleges and universities.

In a weekly radio address in September, Rao hailed the creation of the site.

Americans will now have access to reliable data on every institution of higher education,” Rao said.

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