College Return on Investment Rankings Provide Accurate Portrayal of Life After Graduation

At about 9 p.m., Joe Murtagh strolled into An Beal Bocht Café for an after-work double-shot of vodka.

Murtagh graduated from Manhattan College in May 2014 and, despite the over one-hour commute to his job in the financial district, still lives in Riverdale during his first few years of life after college.

“It’s nice to stay in the neighborhood,” he said, “but as soon as my lease is up I need to go closer to work.”

Murtagh, who majored in communications, concentrated in advertising and minored in psychology and now works at OMD Worldwide, one of the largest media corporations in the world.  He is exactly the kind of student any college would want to showcase as an example of a successful alumnus.

Murtagh told the story of how he got his first internship.

“I have kind of a unique story,” he said, “I was at an event sponsored by the [communication] department to meet people in the industry and one of the people I met at the event offered me the job on the spot.”

After that, he found an opportunity for a second internship at the induction for the communication department’s honor society, Lambda Pi Eta.  That internship became his first job after graduation, before being recruited by OMD a few months later.

Murtagh, like many of his peers, is part of the reason that Manhattan College is ranked 33rd in the nation by PayScale for the return on investment of students.

PayScale is a site, founded in 2002, that specializes in educating members of the American workforce on the salaries they earn and what they should receive based on their qualifications and skills.

According to the site’s “About Us” page, PayScale wants to enable both employee and employer to make wage earning a “data-driven science.”

“Compensation used to be a dark art,” the site reads, “Not anymore.  Today’s job candidate, armed with data, will know what he’s worth and expect a fair salary offer or raise.”

In addition to salary reports for a range of career fields, PayScale also compiles a list of 1,223 colleges and universities in order of how quickly can get a return on their educational investment.

They conduct crowd-sourced surveys, without contacting the schools individually for data, and combine average starting salaries, graduation rates, percentage of students in S.T.E.M. courses and even how many students receive Pell Grants, with information about how quickly recent alumni are able to pay off their student loans.

“[The survey data] is pretty robust from what I understand,” Manhattan College President Brennan O’Donnell said. “When we first showed up on this, my initial response was to be pretty skeptical. We have trouble getting robust data on people of our own.”

O’Donnell said he asked college staff to look into the validity of PayScale’s data.

“He said, ‘you know, it’s not perfect, but it’s a pretty big sampling of people,’” O’Donnell said.

Murtagh, who served as a resident assistant, student worker in the communications office and was a member of the L.O.V.E. board, said that many of his friends had job offers upon graduation from Manhattan and most had a job within the following six months.

“Depending on their major and if they were living at home,” Murtagh said, “most had a job within the month after graduation.”

Based on Murtagh’s experience, and that of his friends, he has had little issue making his student loan payments each month.

“Due to the structure that Manhattan has in place, those lists are really accurate,” he said about the ROI rankings, “and if the school keeps growing, we could even rival those new Ivy Leagues.”

Murtagh is not alone in his post-academic successes. Paul Avvento graduated in 2007 and had a different, albeit equally positive experience.

Avvento majored in secondary education, with a concentration in social studies.  Having graduated just before the recession hit in 2008, his story is more pleasant than most.

“I joined the Lasallian Volunteers upon graduation, and I was placed in San Francisco at an inner-city Catholic school,” he said, “Being able to [teach] in an environment that was supportive helped me deal with any issues I had in the classroom or with students.”

Avvento, like Murtagh, was heavily involved in Campus Ministry and even served as the student body president.

He said he was deeply affected by Manhattan’s Lasallian tradition.

“Manhattan College was my first experience in Catholic education,” he said, “in my education classes, all of the professors, whether they were brothers or not, taught in a different way than I had ever experienced before, and in a different way than any of my friends that were at other colleges.”

Avvento was offered a job at the same inner-city school after he completed his yearlong volunteer work, where he taught for two and a half years before being named assistant principal.

Since then, he has returned to the Bronx as an executive director of a Catholic after-school program.

Both Avvento and Murtagh incurred about $25,000 in student debt and say they haven’t had an issue paying the loans off.

According to the PayScale website, private colleges typically have a lower ROI rate than public schools because of their higher tuitions. Even so, Manhattan still managed to crack the top 50 at 33 and has the third highest return in the state of New York.

Payscale defines college as an investment in one’s future and qualifies alumni ability to pay off loans as the school’s return.

Gabrielle Puglia, who graduated in 2010, has also found success in her time since Manhattan College.

“I was fortunate enough to have a job right out of college,” she said. “I only took out about $10,000 in loans and I started paying that off about a year after graduation.”

Puglia, however, said she took on her student loans less out of necessity than out of a desire to build up credit.  Even so, five years after graduation, she claims that she has only one lump sum of debt to pay off.

Tom McCarthy, vice president for alumni affairs, said most of his friends from the class of 2006 are reaching the point where they are finishing off their loan payments.

He also discussed how difficult it is for students now to pay off their loans compared to past alumni.

“The 50s and 60s grads came to the college on a handshake deal with a brother,” McCarthy said. “Back then you could pull a job and pay for college in a summer, today you can’t make $50,000 in a summer.”

“Honestly, I don’t know if it was the people I met at Manhattan, but I couldn’t be happier with my experience,” Murtagh said. “As long as you work with your professors and network within your own class, there’s no reason why you can’t get a great job.”