How Low-income College Students' Perceptions of Post-graduate Earnings Affect Major Choice

Awarded Scholars:
Michelle Van Noy, Rutgers University
Alex Ruder, Rutgers University
Project Date:
Jun 2015
Award Amount:
Project Programs:
Social, Political, and Economic Inequality

Concerned with whether students will be able to gain a return on their educational investment, policymakers are promoting initiatives to provide students with information regarding post-graduation earnings and employment outcomes associated with college majors. Among these initiatives are the College Scorecard promoted by the Obama administration, as well as websites, such as and, which provide information on the employment outcomes of college graduates by major. However, little is known about how students use and interpret these data, and whether interpretation varies by students’ social class. The effects of earnings information are important to understand because of the potential role that this type of institutionally-provided information may play in structuring opportunity.

Educational sociologist Michelle Van Noy and political scientist Alex Ruder will examine whether earnings information may influence students’ earnings expectations and major choice differently based on their socioeconomic backgrounds. They hypothesize that (1) low-soioeconomic-status (SES) students are more likely to have less accurate earnings expectations than more advantaged students, (2) earnings information will cause a greater change in the expected earnings of low-SES students than more advantaged students, and (3) earnings information on variation compared to the average alone will cause low-SES students to make greater changes in their earnings expectations than more advantaged students.


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