Oberlin College Should Follow Proposed Standards For Alumni Salary Disclosure

As the 2023 college admissions cycle continues, many high school seniors are making a stressful yet exciting choice: where to spend the next four years of their lives. In an attempt to increase yield, colleges are courting their possible first-year classes with an overwhelming intensity. Oberlin College is no stranger to this, as demonstrated by the lengths gone to make its All Roads Lead to Oberlin program a resounding success. Still, even with all the attention the College pays to incoming students, Oberlin somehow manages to overlook one of the most important factors in a future collegianʼs decision: money.

It’s no secret that many college students end up deciding to pursue higher education based on the possible financial and career advantages of a degree. We go to university to expand our earning potential or bolster job security. It is therefore incredibly important that the institution a student attends can provide this. After all, what is the point of spending up to $61,106 a year on tuition alone at Oberlin if the financial strain might outweigh the possible benefits?

Recently, the Ohio House of Representatives introduced a bill that would require all Ohio state colleges to “provide financial cost and aid disclosure forms” to newly admitted students. This also includes sharing “the qualifying student’s expected monthly education loan payment upon graduation” as well as “the income range between the twenty-fifth and seventy-fifth percentiles for each of the following: (a) The state institution’s most recent cohort of graduates; (b) The state institution’s cohort of graduates who graduated five years prior to the qualifying student’s admission to the institution.”

In an interview that I conducted with Representative Adam Mathews from Ohio State District 56, who is one of the primary sponsors of the aforementioned House Bill 27, he discussed how important this bill is for students. 

“The general feeling is, if you get accepted by a good college and you show up for class, you do your work, you’ll be fine,” Mathews said. “But that is never defined for you — what fine looks like. How are you going to be able to make rent, get your life or family set up, be able to get your first down payment for a mortgage? Is that even a reality? We want students, especially when they’re making what’s probably either the first- or second-largest financial decision of their life, to have that in front of them.”

While this bill may not directly apply to Oberlin, as it is a private institution and not a state college, there is no reason why the school should not start adopting these practices on its own. According to one 2014 New York Times study, Oberlin is ranked 63rd out of 64 for median student income when compared to other “elite” schools. Oberlin graduates made an average of $38,900 at age 34 at a time when the national average was $48,257.83. When looking at this data, to be as fair as possible, I must note the lack of defined age range in the second study and the fact that these statistics are almost ten years old. Still, I think any possible inflation of data would be offset by the fact that the second study looked at all workers, not just those with college educations, who theoretically should be earning more than those without. Moreover, I highly doubt that a $10,000 difference in salary can be made up in a mere 10 years. Even if it could, I have no choice but to assume otherwise, due to the lack of new information from the College itself. This information should not have to be sought out by researchers in order to be made public. In fact, for the sake of students, it should not be difficult to find at all. 

While most of us would love to choose our happiness over money, this is just not realistic for everyone. Low-income students cannot afford to make the mistake of attending the wrong college. While Oberlin does provide a decent financial aid package, it does not cover everything for most students. Some students will have to take out loans, another financial aspect that House Bill 27 expects colleges to share. Additionally, if students could be making more money by entering the workforce right after high school, then why should they spend four years that could have been used to climb ranks and build a résumé? This is not to say that the experiences gained in college, whether they might be educational, cultural, or social, are a waste of time. However, who is to say that one cannot expand their worldview in a space outside of educational institutions?

In addition to a potentially lower-than-average salary, the lack of transparency itself also disproportionately affects first-generation and low-income students. Access to college admissions counseling, as well as inherited knowledge of the financial risks of college, are not luxuries that everyone has. When colleges are not open about the financial expectations students should have, they are making it more difficult for students to find the best school for them, decide if college is even the right choice, or reach the same success level as their wealthier peers.

Making the transition to a higher degree of transparency is not a difficult task. According to Representative Mathews, “it doesn’t look like the coding expense would be really much more than a student’s normal textbook expenditure.” It only takes a few hours to make this information public knowledge — information that should have been so in the first place.

If Oberlin College really wants to demonstrate its professed “longstanding commitments to access, diversity, and inclusion,” then it must strive to do better. Oberlin is already the college with the fourth-lowest number of Pell Grant-receiving students, with only 8.4 percent of its students displaying exceptional financial need. In order to not further alienate low-income students, as well as all the students who have made or will make a commitment to this school, Oberlin College owes us all full financial transparency.