Pres. Riggs to HuffPost: Post-graduate success not solely based on earnings


Gettysburg College Pres. Janet Morgan Riggs '77 recently authored an editorial for the August 27 issue of the Huffington Post. Read the full piece below.

Post-Graduate Success Not Solely Based on Earnings

The irony hit me immediately.

Last Thursday, President Obama unveiled plans to rate and reward colleges and universities based on outcomes as measured by the earnings of their graduates.

And yet, just a few months ago, President Obama recognized Gettysburg College and four other higher education institutions as national models for our commitment to civic engagement and community service.

I'm having trouble reconciling these two instances. Where in President Obama's plan for evaluating institutions of higher education is the role that a college or university plays in preparing students for community service, for lives of responsible citizenship? Surely the President does not believe that the value of a person's contribution to society can be measured by how much money he or she makes.

There is no question that college graduates earn significantly more over their lifetimes than high school graduates. That said, I understand the desire to know more about the graduates of specific colleges and universities. I'm all for transparency and accountability in higher education. As they select which college or university to attend, students (and their parents) want to know what their prospects will be when they graduate. How much money will I owe? How many graduates go on to graduate and professional school? How many graduates are employed? In what kinds of jobs are they employed? What are students majoring in particular disciplines most likely to do when they graduate? These are questions that those of us who work in higher education should be prepared to answer.

But does it really make sense to measure the value of a college by the income of its graduates?

At Gettysburg College, more than 70 percent of our students engage in community service. They provide tutoring and ESL lessons to migrant workers and their families, they help address the food gap in our community through innovative programs and services, and they support sustainable development projects abroad. While many of our students go on to lucrative careers, many of them also pursue careers in public service -- they join the Peace Corps, they become educators, they work in nonprofits. And we consider them to be successful.

JanetArtObviously we want -- and expect -- our graduates to make a living, to be able to support themselves. We have a strong career development program to help students cultivate professional interests, participate in internships, and develop a career network. But we don't measure their success based on how much money they make. And surely President Obama wouldn't either.

More than ever, our nation needs graduates who are passionate about education, eager to work in the nonprofit sector, and engage in public service careers. Although these careers don't necessarily yield high incomes, they are of great importance to our society and often quite fulfilling for those who choose them. A system that rates our colleges and universities based upon graduate income is likely to dissuade institutions from encouraging students to take on these important roles.

Over the past few days, I have heard from Gettysburg College alumni who question the President's plan and the impact it could have. A recent graduate who is a high school math teacher said he was sorry if his modest salary might impact his alma mater's rating in a negative way; however, he would never apologize for choosing to help students learn about math and about life. In my eyes, this young graduate has found success, despite the fact that he is not earning a 6- or 7-figure salary.

In the months to come, I look forward to contributing to the national conversation as we consider ways to recognize those institutions of higher education that best serve our students' needs -- and the needs of our society. We need more Americans who can think clearly and critically, who aren't afraid to face society's challenges, who can solve complex problems, work collaboratively, behave ethically, and fully embrace their role as responsible citizens of our communities, our nation, and our world. We need more graduates who are inspired to make this world a better place.

Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition that includes Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate and other distinguished scholars among its alumni. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.

Contact: Mike Baker, assistant director of communications, 717.337.6521.

Posted: Tue, 27 Aug 2013


Nothing will ruin our vaunted colleges and universities more quickly or effectively than getting the federal government involved. I can't name one endeavor that is undertaken by the bureaucrats in Washington that is done efficiently, effectively and results is something that is better than if they had allowed citizens to operate freely. Hopefully, this plan is not brought to fruition.

Brendan Gerrity - 1988 | Posted Aug 27, 2013 08:56 PM

I believe that federal engagement is necessary in small doses, however evaluating colleges and universities based on how much income they make is rather crude. Success can take many different forms and our POTUS should acknowledge that income is by far the worst measure to use to evaluate success after graduating from an undergraduate program.

Karina Matlock - 2014 | Posted Aug 28, 2013 03:49 PM

President Riggs has oversimplified Obama's proposal in an editorial that is more of a thinly guised public relations piece. Rather than setting up a straw man argument that ignores the many nuances of the issue, President Riggs should look at President Obama's motivations for outlining these reforms and use her position to offer better solutions for making college affordable. It is impossible for students without significant outside help to pay off their loans upon graduation, even while working full-time. President Obama, who began his career as a community organizer (not a lucrative position, to be sure), is not blind to the value of professions beyond the salaries they offer, and to the value of education in preparing students for those professions. I would like to see President Riggs author a more well-thought out piece outlining her own proposal for making institutions that promote the values for which Riggs rightfully commends Gettysburg (a strong tradition of community service and outreach, etc.) affordable options for middle and lower income students.

Michele Seabrook - 2014 | Posted Aug 28, 2013 07:22 PM

Overall, I disagree with the plan put forth by the President. But actually not because income is an inherently bad way to measure success (let alone the worst one, as suggested above). Income is potentially one of the best ways to measure success of a graduating class, although it fails at an individual level. The fact is that just like Gettysburg is devoted to public service, which is something that I am very proud of as an alum, other colleges are as well - and that would balance them out from that perspective, leaving the weight that tips the balance to the difference of whether someone gets a job at a tier 1 or tier 2 company. The real problem actually comes from the secondary effects of the policy. This manner of reward might actually drive institutions to "encourage" its students towards certain majors or jobs. That would go completely against the mission of educating the population and making the world a better place. Under the (probably very incorrect) assumption that universities would not change their behavior based on this reward system, measuring income levels is actually not a bad idea. But reality is more complicated than that.

David Santos - 2007 | Posted Aug 28, 2013 07:24 PM

Community service should be an important part of everyone's life, but in reality we're paying over 50K a year for our daughter to get an education which allows her to have job opportunities where she can earn "6 figures" if she wants to - and then she may even be able to afford to send her kids to Gettysburg College. We're certainly not expecting her to learn the ins and outs of community service starting at 18 years old. That part of her education has been going on at home since she was a child and I'd expect that many families have done the same. Instead, it would be nice to see tuition lowered to a more affordable rate and thereby open the doors to a more diverse community. Now that would be a real education.

vicki Bralow | Posted Aug 28, 2013 08:34 PM

As a middle school teacher in a title one school in Phoenix,AZ, I spend my days instilling a sense of pride in my students for their positive contributions to their community and engagement with the issues that will challenge their generation when they graduate. Every year, I'm proud to see how eager they are to take on these challenges. However, every year my students ask me, "Is it really worth it to go to college? It's so expensive; there aren't jobs for us." Honestly, I struggle with how to answer that question. After reading President Rigg's editorial, my faith is restored. My response to my students from now on will now be,"Yes, it's worth everything to have the opportunity to study what you care about for the benefit of the world around you." I'm extremely proud to have been able to attend Gettysburg College and prouder still to see that the college's values are for that of the greater good, not the greater paycheck.

Sarah Kretzmer - 2004 | Posted Aug 28, 2013 08:52 PM

In light of the fact that our struggling economy currently causes many well educated, well qualified graduates to be unemployed or underemployed, it hardly seems fair to rate and reward colleges solely on the income of their graduates. To me, income reflects the economy far more than it reflects the quality of a particular college. Also, as mentioned in the article, many worthwhile occupations, like teachers or social workers, are not very highly paid, which is a poor reflection on society but should not reflect poorly on our colleges and universities. Gettysburg College started me on a path which led to my Masters in Social Work. I have completed one year as an AmeriCorps*VISTA, am considering a second year, and plan to complete a Peace Corps term in the future. I currently work at a non-profit and will likely never make much money. I would hardly want my alma mater to suffer because I chose a career in social services. It seems myopic to create such a disincentive for schools to invest in developing well-rounded, civic-minded graduates, and I applaud Gettysburg College for embracing a broader view of contribution and success.

Bethany Horstman - 2006 | Posted Aug 28, 2013 11:47 PM

Some students prioritize income, some do not. The bank-for-your-buck ranking style is great for students who emphasize income but this is only a fraction of students. For others,income can be quite misleading. To say that differences among schools' commitment to service will even out is ridiculous. The same could be said of income: all schools want graduates to have high incomes (and thereby more opportunity to give back) so concentrating on service is a better indication of quality. The real challenge here is that schools perform many functions tin order to meet the wide variety of needs of incoming students. Perhaps rankings should forgo these highly subjective instruments of quality altogether. Rather, rankings could focus on more concrete and universal instruments. Graduation and transfer rates generally speak to higher quality, and these are already used successfully. Same with placement: the percentage of students obtaining jobs, admission to advanced degree programs, and service programs in 6 months (or other time increments) examines whether students are successful after graduation, regardless of their preferred endeavor. Alumni ratings also provide another opportunity - participation, donation rate (not quantity), satisfaction surveys, etc. Ultimately, we are trying to determine a way to decide if a school is worth attending. Unless income can be categorically separated between those who prioritize income and those who do not, income is a poor measure of success and more applicable and robust measures should determine what funding schools receive.

Kevin Lugo - 2013 | Posted Sep 01, 2013 09:58 PM



Related Stories


Get all the latest news delivered to your inbox or RSS reader:

  • News - profiles, event coverage, campus updates
  • Athletics - scores and highlights
  • In the Media - faculty, alumni and students featured in the media
  • Photo of the Day - images from campus and the community

Submit a story idea

The Office of Communications and Marketing is looking for stories about Gettysburgians doing great work.

Send your suggestions to