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BC Denounces Flawed Atlantic Article

A recent article posted on claims certain colleges are a waste of money, but a quick look at the author’s research methods and the data used to draw the conclusions shows that the story, itself, is a big waste of time.

Chris Shoemaker

March 27, 2014

President David Olive


Bluefield College, a private Christian liberal arts college in southwest Virginia, was among those listed by The Atlantic as a waste of money for students in the article written by Derek Thompson, titled “These U.S. Colleges and Majors Are the Biggest Waste of Money,” March 26, 2014. However, BC administrators and colleagues from other institutions on the list hurriedly and convincingly pointed out the erroneousness of the report.


“This is poor journalism and misstated and incomplete information at best,” said Bluefield’s Trent Argo, vice president for enrollment management. “Many liberal arts colleges are not even on the list. They just left them out completely. Their full list only includes 1,310 colleges in the United States. That means many were left out of the calculations.”


For example, Argo added, none of Kentucky’s liberal arts colleges were included in the report, and a number of Virginia liberal arts colleges were omitted, including Averett University, Sweet Briar College, Ferrum College, Virginia Intermont College, and Emory & Henry College.


The reason for the piecemeal list: incomplete data provided to, The Atlantic’s source for its article rankings. Thompson drew his conclusions based on self-reported data in PayScale’s “2014 College ROI Report,” which means he determined his rankings solely on a limited number of college graduates who responded to a PayScale survey and without any consideration for those who determined the survey wasn’t worth their while.


“As a result,” said Bluefield College President David Olive, “his article is tragically misrepresentative of facts. There is nothing statistical or measurable about the survey in any way.”


In fact, Thompson, himself, admits the weakness of self-reported statistics, stating in his own article that, “self-reported income tends to skew up, because humans are a proud species, and we care more about our feelings than strict honesty with anonymous pollsters.”


In addition, the PayScale report he used not only excludes dozens, possibly hundreds of schools, but also fails to consider a number of key factors that go into measuring the value of a college degree, including sticker price vs. net cost after grants and aid, demographics, local economies, and graduates’ professional preferences. Thompson, again, in an earlier article classifying “which colleges will make you rich,” admits the impact of the absence of these key factors by saying “it’s devilishly difficult to measure the cost and benefit of college.” Bluefield College tends to agree.


“Wages certainly are one important indicator, but there are many other valuable outcomes of a college education, as well,” said Dr. Olive. “Such influences go well beyond the institution or the academic program and often include the mission and nature of the employing organization, cost of living differences between communities, and graduates’ individual preferences. Not everyone chooses to maximize wages over all other considerations.”


Other, more credible sources confirm BC’s position about the Atlantic article, including the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV), which recently ranked Bluefield College graduates among the highest earners in the state in its Wages Report for the Virginia Longitudinal Data System.


Required by law and not dependent on self-reporting, SCHEV’s degree and wage data contradicts PayScale’s numbers. In fact, the SCHEV report found that Bluefield College graduates with baccalaureate degrees earn more in their first year on the job than the average four-year graduates from other Virginia colleges. The SCHEV study said that BC grads with four-year degrees earn an average annual salary of $43,442, compared to the statewide average of $36,067 for baccalaureate grads from all other Virginia schools.


As reflected in the SCHEV report, average BC alumni salaries in their first year of employment outpace other Virginia private school four-year degree grads from Emory & Henry College ($27,129), Virginia Intermont College ($27,751), Ferrum College ($27,806), Bridgewater College ($28,913), Randolph-Macon College ($30,621), and Averett University ($40,744), among others.


BC bachelor’s degree graduates, the SCHEV report said, also earn more on average than state school baccalaureate grads from Radford University ($31,825), the College of William and Mary ($34,571), Virginia Commonwealth University ($34,677), James Madison University ($35,224), Old Dominion University ($36,571), Virginia Military Institute ($38,914), Virginia Tech ($38,957), and the University of Virginia ($39,648), among others.


Furthermore, PayScale and The Atlantic also fail to factor in the value effects of student debt after graduation. A recent headline on the Chronicle of Higher Education’s web site read, “Borrowers’ Average Debt at Graduation Climbs to $29,400,” based on the national average of debt from the graduating class of 2012. Contrary to that trend, at Bluefield College, graduates are leaving the school with just under $21,000 in debt on average. In fact, in many instances BC graduates have less debt than many of the graduates from Virginia’s public universities.


About 90 percent of students at Bluefield College receive financial aid at an average value of $14,127 per year, compared to as little as $3,539 per year at other colleges in the South, according to U.S. News & World Report. In fact, U.S. News ranked Bluefield College 34th among 119 colleges in the South in the level of generosity of financial aid. The result of this generosity: less debt for students. U.S. News ranked BC 16th among the 119 schools in the South in the average total indebtedness of its graduating students.


“This article is a sad commentary on what passes as journalism today and our society’s continual focus on salaries as the major indicator to the quality of one’s education,” noted Dr. Olive. “As I share with prospective students and their families at every Open House, while salaries are important to sustain our lives, families and communities, an education is much more; it’s about the further development of critical thinking and communication skills, as well as following one’s calling and living a life of meaning.”


The Atlantic is a literary and cultural commentary magazine based in Washington, D.C., which, according to its own purpose statement, “advances bold ideas on the urgent issues of our time,” while stirring “vital national conversations through groundbreaking perspectives and a distinctively unbiased approach.”






I find it hard to believe that BC students make more than students from VT and UVA.

Bruce Hopler

This is a great response! I hope a lot of people read it!


Bluefield College is a great college! What is better than a Christian environment, wonderful professors, and faculty/staff who are willing to do all they can to make sure your experience is just what you expected? I think the author of that article should come pay Bluefield College a visit. The college is not a waste of time or money! I love Bluefield College and always will! GO RAMS!!!!


Bluefield college is very expensive . The environment there is small town, Christian and not Liberal .. I think this gives it an A+ compared to other colleges....

Dr. Fred Gillispie

Just like Fox News, The Atlantic claims to be unbiased. Saying so doesn't make it so.


I attended Bluefield College on a full scholarship consisting of academics and athletics. In fact, most of the people I know received some type of scholarship or financial aid. The registrar at the time, Carrie Camden, worked so dilgently to make sure all of my scholarships were applied and my tuition taken care of. I know her name and she worked with me personally. The same goes for Will Gordon, John Steenken and many others. That is what separates BC from many other schools. You know the teachers and the administrators and they have a vested interest in your success. I loved my time at BC it was and still is worth the money. Go Rams!!!!

1993 grad

I got my undergrad at Bluefield and have never regretted it. I could not have imagined going to a huge university as immature as I was as starting college at 17 years old. It was small and I used a partial athletic scholarship to motivate me through.

Al Linton, Class of 1969

I did not attend Bluefield College (BC)to become financially "rich". Knowing that I would no doubt become employed by a non-profit organization, it was my desire to help others help themselves. I left BC 45 years ago debt free. I became socially "rich" in interacting with my family, school personnel, job associates, the church, and local, state, and Federal levels of government. Today,I remain debt free. The key to economic success is not how much one makes, but how much one spends. One should not spend more than 1/3 of what is made. Maybe the Atlantic survey should have focused less on BC graduates' salary or wages, but inquired about their overall economic debt and sense of security.

Virginia Pastor

I got my undergraduate from BC, and yes, I can believe BC undergraduates make more than Tech or Radford undergraduates, undergraduates being the keyword there. A graduate or post graduate degree increases the likelihood of better employment.

BC is a wonderful school located in a wonderful environment. It is Christ-centered education at its best. I am quite saddened that a paper can make such claims based off loose journalism and research and in return potentially cause devastating results in enrollment and retention. Shame on them!

JP Mililli

No matter how wonderful BC is or how unfair the article is, the damage is done. The response will do little to mitigate the tarnished image. The objective now should be to shore up supporters and alumni, develop an effective campaign, and continue to build on the college's strengths. Looking at the internet, surprisingly, BC has many detractors. A strong positive, targeted and deliberate campaign can go a long way towards diminishing the negatives that are festering, and promoting the multiple benefits of BC.

In sum, a response is not enough. Moreover, only pointing out flaws in the article after a point is sour grapes. I recommend putting the article and other negatives behind, look forward and look towards building a great image.

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