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The Economist lauds Capitol as "delivering top-decile salaries"

Capitol Technology University has been singled out by The Economist as an example of an engineering-centered school whose graduates go on to earn high salaries. The mention came as the global news magazine released its first ever college rankings, at the end  of October.

Field of study is a key predictor of success, the magazine found -- the second most important factor after SAT scores.  Within STEM fields, computer science and engineering deliver the biggest bang for a student's educational buck.

But while many such schools are hard to get into, "a handful, such as Capitol Technology University outside Washington, DC, accept a majority of applicants while still delivering top-decile salaries," the article said.

The magazine also highlighted the importance of geographical location; if a school is located in a job-rich area and has strong ties to local employers, its graduates can be expected to earn tens of thousands more. Maryland schools in general benefit from proximity to Washington D.C.; Capitol has leveraged that advantage even further through ongoing partnerships with NASA and the National Security Agency as well as private sector giants such as Lockheed Martin.

Concern over the value of higher education has spiked in recent years as the US economy faces an apparent structural problem: growth in job vacancies is higher than the rate of actual new hires.

Employers are unable to find qualified personnel for open positions, while many college graduates do not have the skills that would qualify them for those jobs -- even as institutions of higher education are "churning out more degrees than ever," The Economist said.

The gap has led to calls for more accountabiity in the form of data-driven results that can help students make better choices. In September, the Obama administration launched a College Scorecard website that attempts to provide such data.

Matching expectatons to reality

The Economist's ranking is based on the Scorecard but adds an extra element: through multiple regression analysis, it seeks to estimate the gap between alumni expectations and actual median salaries -- that is, "the gap between how much money [a given college or university's] students subsequently earn, and how much they might have made if they had studied elsewhere."

Among Maryland schools, Capitol is notable both for comparatively high median earnings post-graduation, and for an almost non-existent gap between earnings and expectations. According to The Economist, Capitol graduates earn a median salary of $58,900 -- or $586 higher than the expected figure of $58,314.

By contrast, graduates of many other Maryland institutions either can expect significantly lower median earnings, or face a significantly higher gap between earnings and expectations.

Nationwide, the data challenges some commonly held views, The Economist noted. One is that studying the humanities is a ticket to job woes. In fact, the magazine noted, graduates from schools with high concentrations of English majors do not fare poorly in the economic marketplace. In terms of job prospects after graduation, the worst performers are religious and art schools, which "dominate the bottom rung of the earnings table," it found.

Another is that STEM education -- broadly defined -- is a panacea for hireability problems. In fact, only select STEM fields, notably computer science and engineering, provide a competitve edge, and that edge is significant. 

For the complete Economist rankings, click here.