When It Comes to Universities, Size Doesn’t Really Matter

Some students choose big colleges because they like the location or they want a broader choice of majors and extra-curriculars. Other students prefer the more personal feel of a small college—where, for instance, a student might know the name of everyone in his class.

Big vs Small CollegesBut large or small, size has nothing to do with the overall quality of a college or university. Size does not, for the most part, tell you how that school’s graduates are doing.

College professionals have intuited this for years, but recently the National Association of Colleges and Employers has proven that size doesn’t matter very much with a 2014 survey. The survey canvassed 274,000 graduates at 207 universities and colleges across the United States. Over a quarter of a million bachelor degree programs were evaluated in the course of the survey, which provides information on 31 academic disciplines and 190 majors. A number of two-year degrees were also on the survey’s radar.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers, which conducted the survey, claims to be the best source of information on the employment rate of those with college educations. Since it was established in 1956, the association has analyzed and predicted trends in the job market, and it reports on starting salaries, hiring statistics, and student attitudes. As such, the association is able to make valuable predictions and recommendations about best practices and standards.

Though the survey does not indicate any major differences in quality between large and small, it did uncover some interesting smaller differences. Perhaps the most important is that graduates from the smallest universities earned lower starting salaries than their counterparts.

This phenomenon invites speculation, of course. It might be that the lack of recognizable school name value negatively impacts the chances of recent graduates hitting the job market. Alternatively, it’s also quite possible that students who deliberately choose very small schools also choose small companies to start their careers. And smaller companies tend to pay smaller salaries because of more limited resources and revenues.

The same survey suggests that recent graduates of big universities are somewhat more likely to flounder immediately upon graduation. Six months after graduation finds a quarter of the grads from big schools without a full-time job. Many of them, however, are awaiting graduate school or deliberately taking time off to travel or volunteer. So it would be a mistake to read too deeply into this statistic also.

It is also important to note that the significant differences exist only at the extremes. The very large and very small schools, in other words, are the ones with substantially different outcomes. The survey clearly shows that small schools of 1001 to 3000 and medium-sized schools of 3001-10,000 have almost the same outcomes. The percentage of full-time employed small school graduates is 56.1 and the percentage of full-time employed medium-size school graduates is 57.8. There is a smaller than $5000 difference between their starting salaries with the mid-size school grads starting out a little lower on the salary scale. The average yearly bonuses for the two school groups was also extremely similar with the graduates from medium-size schools earning average bonuses of $7640 while their peers from smaller schools earned $6047.

In conclusion, a school’s size should not be a major factor in anyone’s college decision. Location, choice of curriculum, global reputation, cost, and available financial aid are much more important factors, though some students will still opt for a larger or smaller school based on personal tastes and comfort. For more detailed information on student outcomes post graduation, visit www.naceweb.org/surveys/first-destination.aspx.

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