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THE GREAT DIVIDE

How are Mass. public school graduates faring? Here are key takeaways from a new state report.

Massachusetts Education Commissioner Jeffrey RileyNicolaus Czarnecki / Pool

The state released a new database that highlights how Massachusetts public school students fare after graduation, detailing postsecondary education and degrees and their economic earnings.

The report, which measures graduate outcomes broken down by demographics, was recently presented to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Here are key takeaways from the data:

1. There are major earnings disparities among alumni from disadvantaged groups

Massachusetts has long struggled to close academic achievement gaps among students from disadvantaged racial and economic backgrounds. The wage gaps after graduation underscore such trends.

Black, Native American, Latino, and Pacific Islander graduates of the class of 2010 made an average of $44,687 in 2021 — about 32 percent less than the average earnings of their white and Asian counterparts. Students from low-income households of the class of 2015 made an average of $34,673 in 2021, nearly $12,000 less than their non-economically disadvantaged peers’ average 2021 salary.

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The data also consistently showed, throughout the different graduation classes, that year after year female students earn less on average than male students, English learners earn less than native English speakers, and significant wage gaps exist among students with disabilities compared to those without.

2. Postsecondary enrollment data could be wrapped into future school accountability measures

The compilation of this data into an annual report is a requirement of the Student Opportunity Act of 2019, a piece of legislation aimed at curbing achievement gaps among disadvantaged students in Massachusetts schools.

Martin West, a member of the state education board, suggested that Massachusetts use the data as an accountability tool for schools in the future.

“I think other states are well ahead of us in broadening their assessments of high schools in ways that to capture their postsecondary promotion power, for lack of a better word, sort of like value added to postsecondary success,” he said. West pointed to Texas and Louisiana as examples of states that already use postsecondary enrollment numbers as a school evaluation tool. This, West suggested, would offer a more nuanced evaluation of school performance beyond MCAS scores.

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“Basically our accountability system ends at graduation,” said Robert Curtin, Department of Elementary and Secondary Elementary’s chief data officer. “There are states that look at postsecondary factors, like strictly enrollment, and others have taken it a step further and looked at the need for remediation and taking credit bearing courses. So those are things that we’ve explored in the past and will continue to explore in thinking about the way we want the high school accountability system to look.”

Curtin added that the state agency wants to offer that more specific data broken down at the campus level in future reports.

3. Take this data with a grain of salt

This data set is by no means complete nor definitive, but it does offer some insight.

The majority of the earnings data was compiled using wage records from the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance. Therefore, the report does not track the incomes of graduates who work outside of Massachusetts (about 40 percent are employed out of state), those who work for the federal government, or those who are self-employed. Curtin also said that DESE did not count the wages of graduates currently enrolled in higher education institutions as part of the data since the majority of them worked part-time and would depress the averages.

The postsecondary enrollment data was put together using numbers from the National Student Clearinghouse, which collects self-reported enrollment information from 97 percent of colleges nationwide. This means data from 3 percent of US colleges is missing, as is data from students attending college outside of the country and those students who have manually opted out of having their data shared by their schools.

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This data only goes back as far as the class of 2010 and lacks information beyond the class of 2020. This means the majority of the people represented in this data set are under the age of 30 and have not necessarily reached their maximum earning potential. Furthermore, it is still unclear how the pandemic affected college enrollment, degree attainment, and wages for the state’s 2021 and 2022 graduates.


Julian E.J. Sorapuru is a Development Fellow at the Globe and can be reached at julian.sorapuru@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JulianSorapuru