Graduate income is a helpful data set

In “Education customers deserve a positive return” (Business Forum, Feb. 18), Fred Zimmerman asks: “Are our customers making any money?”

That’s an excellent question. And I’d like to add: “If so, how will we know?”

Historically, the only tool for colleges and universities to understand the earnings of their graduates has been self-reported alumni surveys. Now, as a result of the federal government’s release of income data for the graduates of hundreds of institutions, any potential student who wants to get an MBA in finance can know exactly what graduates from that program earned on average, which in the case of Capella University for the 2010 tax year is $95,459.

The problem is that this kind of data has been made available only for a limited number of colleges. The federal government, or even the state of Minnesota, could take a significant step to help consumers by making this data available on a voluntary basis to any institution seeking the income data of its graduates on a program-by-program basis.

SCOTT KINNEY, Minneapolis

The writer is president of Capella University.

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Hold on just a minute — about a lot of hours.

In his commentary, Zimmerman stated: “While many people labor 2,000 hours in a single year, the classroom contact hours among high school teachers is around 865 hours while summers and other periods are free.”

Although at first it might seem weak, a more legitimate comparison is between professional athletes and high school teachers. If we apply Zimmerman’s logic, most NFL football players work 60 hours a year (20 games that are about three hours long). Forget training, practice, work with the public, planning in coaches’ classrooms, individual film study or dealing with injuries.

Interestingly, Zimmerman gives college professors credit for responsibilities such as class preparation and student counseling, but doesn’t mention those or any of the additional time-consuming activities high school teachers experience.

Just for examples, consider the effort necessary to evaluate and grade students’ work; communicate with parents; prepare for and attend meetings; share ideas and concerns with other teachers; tutor students needing extra help; supervise and guide students beyond the time in regular classes; consult with administrators, counselors and other support personnel; make a classroom itself appealing and functional; order and possibly beg for supplies, plus deal with the frustrations and even dangers of disciplining students.

By the way, most of the summer Zimmerman references is either for uncompensated seasonal unemployment, part-time work or a teacher’s continuing education.

I assume there’s no need to compare the incomes of NFL players and teachers.

JIM BARTOS, Brooklyn Park

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S&P acted in good faith on housing

Assertions that we compromised our analytic integrity for business considerations (“Franken urges new rules for rating agencies,” Feb. 15) are simply false. We deeply regret that our CDO ratings failed to fully anticipate the rapidly deteriorating conditions in the U.S. mortgage market in the time leading up to the financial crisis.

But there was robust internal debate within S&P about U.S. housing, and we applied the collective judgment of our committee-based system in good faith. S&P’s ratings were based on the same subprime mortgage data available to the rest of the market — including U.S. government officials, who in 2007 publicly stated that problems in the subprime market appeared to be contained.

With regard to the issuer-pays business model, we strongly believe that it provides the greatest transparency to the market by making public ratings available free of charge to everyone, avoiding selective disclosure. S&P has used the issuer-pays model since the 1970s, when the Penn Central Railroad bankruptcy demonstrated the need for greater transparency and availability of credit ratings.

The policy of the U.S. government is to reduce mechanistic reliance on ratings by eliminating references to credit ratings in certain regulations. We emphatically support that policy. An oversight board to assign ratings could have the unintended consequence of leading investors to think ratings are endorsed by the government.

Paul A. Coughlin, New York

The writer is executive managing director of global analytics and operations for Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services.

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How the orchestra and theater differ

In response to the Feb. 19 letter writer who questioned how the Minnesota Orchestra is managed compared to the Guthrie, it is true that different traditions exist in the symphonic world as opposed to the theatrical one.

Most theaters hire their performers on a show-by-show basis, which gives theater administrators a great deal of flexibility in managing overall costs. Most major American orchestras (including the Minnesota Orchestra) offer musicians year-round, tenured positions with very sizable compensation packages.

This means orchestra managers have less flexibility in managing overall costs — except at the time of a contract negotiation — but symphony musicians benefit from stable continuous employment. It is highly uncommon for a nonprofit theater to offers its actors a salary and benefit package totaling $120,000 a year. This is the current offer on the table for Minnesota Orchestra musicians.

If orchestras were to adopt advice from the theatrical world, it might very well benefit the orchestra’s financial bottom line, but it probably wouldn’t be to the advantage of individual musicians.

ROBERT NEU, Minneapolis

The writer is general manager of the Minnesota Orchestra.