The median wages of Bellevue College grads with a bachelor’s degree was $48,200 in 2013 — higher than the median for UW grads.

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State Rep. Chad Magendanz thinks Washington college students should be able to understand the potential economic benefits of choosing a specific degree, or program, before deciding on their major or even where they enroll. And his vision for how to provide that information is beginning to take shape.

The state’s Education Research & Data Center’s Earnings Dashboard is gradually becoming a more robust tool that can help students figure out which Washington public colleges and universities offer the most bang for the buck — and which degree programs pay the most after graduation.

“We’re finally getting to the point where a student can get good ROI (return on investment) analysis of different degree programs and programs of study,” said Magendanz, an Issaquah Republican. Magendanz sponsored legislation a year ago to create such a dashboard, and while that bill failed, key parts of his ideas were incorporated into the budget, giving the data center the money to do the work.

Magendanz envisions a website that would someday model a student’s wage potential based on the student’s demographic information, allowing students to look beyond raw graduation rates to find the college that offers the best fit.

For example, only about 21 percent of undergraduates in Eastern Washington University’s freshman class of 2010 had graduated by 2014. Yet the school serves one of the lowest-income student populations, Magendanz notes. Its tuition is also the lowest in the state. When those factors are taken into consideration, EWU might turn out to be a better choice for a low-income student living in Eastern Washington than it appears at first blush, especially if the student can analyze the median wage earned by students who majored in specific degree programs. A more robust version of the website, still in the works, will one day be able to provide that information, he said.

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Right now, the Earnings Dashboard is fairly simple. For each type of degree — from a certificate up to a doctorate — it shows the median wage earnings for students who graduate from Washington public colleges and universities and go to work in this state. For example, University of Washington students who graduated in 2012 earned a median wage of $41,400 in 2013.

It also shows median wages for programs of study, from all universities. For bachelor’s degrees, not surprisingly, computer science tops the list (with $69,400 in wages in 2013), followed by engineering, health professions, engineering technologies and related fields, mathematics and statistics, and business. At the bottom: Recreation, leisure and fitness studies ($29,400).

One figure that might surprise readers: The median wages of Bellevue College grads with a bachelor’s degree was $48,200 in 2013 — higher than the median for UW grads.

That figure is a testament to the community college system’s popular and growing program of applied baccalaureate degrees.

Leslie Heizer Newquist, dean of Bellevue College’s Health Sciences, Education & Wellness Institute, said Bellevue College graduated about 50 students from two new applied baccalaureate degree programs in 2013 — the programs were interior design, and radiation and imaging sciences. Since then, the college has added several additional applied baccalaureate degrees.

Radiation and imaging sciences is an especially high-paying job; according to a state report, graduates earned a median salary of $85,000 in 2012.

An applied baccalaureate is a course of study in a specific skill, one that has a track record of paying a living wage. However, the credits earned often do not transfer to a four-year university because the information taught is typically narrower in scope.

In order for a community college to begin an applied baccalaureate program, it must get approval from the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, and must prove that the degree leads to in-demand jobs that pay a living wage.

For those reasons, applied baccalaureates are worth a look, Heizer Newquist said. They’re often good options for people who have a dozen or more college credits and work experience, but no formal credential yet. They’re also good pathways for students coming directly to a community college from high school. And they’re more affordable than four-year bachelor’s degrees.