Graduates of career training programs at public colleges tend to land better paying jobs than those who attended for-profit schools, according to government data released Thursday.
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The Education Department data show average earnings of those with certificates from public schools were nearly $9,000 higher than those with for-profit certificate programs.
"College is the best investment a person can make in their long-term future," Education Secretary John B. King Jr. said as the report was released. The earnings information "is an important thing for students to pay attention to as they decide what programs to pursue and where to pursue them."
About 1.3 million students are enrolled in career college programs in a variety of fields from nursing, welding, and culinary arts to certificate programs for auto mechanics, pharmacy technicians and dental assistants.
Community colleges in particular, the report said, offered programs that outperformed similar programs at for-profit schools.
The report said certificate programs at public undergraduate schools usually had more students enrolled in high-earning fields, such as nursing.
Graduates of those public programs also tended to have higher incomes than grads in the same fields of study at for-profits. That was true for most of the 14 fields of study examined. A few, including culinary arts and cosmetology, had better average earnings at for-profit schools. The report didn't address why that is.
The report looked at career programs at about 3,700 public and for-profit schools that are covered by the "gainful employment" regulations that went into effect last year soon after the troubled for-profit giant Corinthian Colleges filed for bankruptcy.
The rules require career training programs to show that students can earn enough money after graduation to pay off their student loans. They're aimed at shutting down programs that make phony promises to prospective students, push them to take out government-backed loans, and then leave them with mountains of debt and sometimes worthless degrees.
"For far too long, some career colleges have made dubious promises about the employment prospects of their graduates, promising high salaries that rarely live up to the hype," said Undersecretary of Education Ted Mitchell. "The earnings data released today shine a light on how graduates are actually faring when they enter the job market."
The data reflect 2014 earnings data for students who graduated between 2008 and 2012, depending on the size and type of their program.
Average annual earnings over the 14 fields of study ranged from $33,835 for nursing at the top of the list, followed by welding at $29,587, down to cosmetology at the bottom of the list with mean earnings of $14,130 per year.
In January, the department plans to release student debt-to-earnings data for college career programs. If the programs don't meet the new "gainful employment" requirements and fail to improve, they will lose eligibility for federal student aid. More than 80 percent of students at for-profits borrow federal student loans to pay for college, compared to fewer than half of students at public schools who do the same.