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Education The Almighty Buck News

Is Going To an Elite College Worth the Cost? 391

Pickens writes "Jacques Steinberg writes in the NY Times that the sluggish economy and rising costs of college have only intensified questions about whether expensive, prestigious colleges make any difference. Researchers say that alumni of the most selective colleges earn, on average, 40 percent more a year than those who graduated from the least selective public universities, as calculated 10 years after they graduated from and found that 'attendance at an elite private college significantly increases the probability of attending graduate school, and more specifically graduate school at a major research university.' But other researchers say the extent to which one takes advantage of the educational offerings of an institution may be more important, in the long run, than how prominently and proudly that institution's name is being displayed on the back windows of cars in the nation's wealthiest enclaves."
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Is Going To an Elite College Worth the Cost?

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  • Contacts (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 19, 2010 @05:01PM (#34609770)
    Its not about whether or not the degree you get there is any better if you email your CV to a company you found on a jobs site.

    Its about if the preppy boy you shared a room with can get you a job at his dad's company.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 19, 2010 @06:16PM (#34610356)

      The Harvard Longitudinal Study of Adult Development studied groups of men since the 1940s. The only correlation the study could find with anything was personal relationships. []

      Men with good relationships in childhood and young adulthood did better in almost every facet of their lives than did those with poor relationships: income, social status, marital status, health, etc. etc.

      There are also lots of studies that show that, once employees meet the minimum qualifications and are hired, their performance has nothing to do with where they graduated, their marks, their IQ or any additional degrees they have. The big thing is their interpersonal relationships.

      Of course, this is Slashdot, populated with geeks and nerds, so I don't expect that most of those reading this will believe it; sigh.

      • Oh, I believe it, and it's consistent with the anecdotes I know about. Sucks for the average nerd like me, sure, but that doesn't mean it isn't true.

      • As someone who moved around quite a bit as a kid, and consequently has a much smaller social network than someone who's stayed in one place, I wonder if I can sue my parents for lowering my potential income. Hmmmm..... (I jest, of course)
      • by russotto ( 537200 ) on Sunday December 19, 2010 @11:33PM (#34612486) Journal

        The Harvard Longitudinal Study of Adult Development studied groups of men since the 1940s. The only correlation the study could find with anything was personal relationships.

        You provide a link to the study, but not to any results supporting your claim. The only results I found with a bit of searching were in an Atlantic Monthly article -- and those indicated that personal relationships were most important, but only among the Harvard men studied, not the "Glueck men", for whom the most important predictor was industriousness in childhood. Further, there were other factors as well, for both groups.

    • It's not what you know, it's who you know. Above a certain academic standard, that's your difference.
  • by Scorch_Mechanic ( 1879132 ) on Sunday December 19, 2010 @05:02PM (#34609776) Journal
    If they're swayed by the big H on your resume, great! Maybe you'll be able to pay off your student loans slightly faster otherwise. Or you could just go to the much cheaper, less pretentious school and get the same degree without the financial insolvency. Your choice.
  • by Aerorae ( 1941752 ) on Sunday December 19, 2010 @05:02PM (#34609782)

    At Duke I was pretty much told "Go buy the textbook [$200+] and come to class if you have questions [which probably won't be answered]." The profs were just that. Profs. Not teachers. They were more interested in their research than educating the lowly undergrads.

    I switched to a state school. I actually have TEACHERS now! (at 1/10th the price!)

    • by TaoPhoenix ( 980487 ) <> on Sunday December 19, 2010 @05:14PM (#34609904) Journal

      Actually, I both agree and want to push this further.
      Although he was phrasing it rather snarky, the AC elsewhere who said it was about the preppy contacts and schmoozing was part right - if you're a people-person and know how to be in the popular crowds, the Who-You-Know factor can be an instant ticket.

      However, I treated a degree as "something to defend" and didn't want a glaring Scarlet Letter following me around. I agree that the undergrad experience in some of the Name Schools is awful and a borderline-scam. I switched to a state school and started on a mostly ordinary business career.

      But Education is the next big Bubble. I was in Uni in a precisely dated "last of the old" time slots - 1993-1997. A typical undergrad course = 2 textbooks, "40 podcasts" and your choice of "2 answers per podcast + 1 office hour". Thanks to the RIAA's screaming, we now know that 40 podcasts = ... $0! And now the Two-Questions can be answered on the net. So the real price of the class is a $50/hour "consulting hour" plus the rent for the dorm + meal ticket.

    • by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Sunday December 19, 2010 @05:43PM (#34610112) Journal

      They were more interested in their research than educating the lowly undergrads.

      If you go into academia and research, you need to be self-educating anyhow, needing to read esoteric and lingo-filled journals as part of your general career. This is why research institution "teachers" suck and can suck.

      It all depends on what your future focus is. A "practitioner" can generally do fine at a middle-level institution, and may even make it big via entrepreneurship etc. And save a lot of money to boot.

      However, if you want to move up in academic and research standing, you need to play the academia game, and the big-name universities control that game.

      The rift between the practitioner/entrepreneur route and the academia route tends to be growing such that you pretty much have to pick a side fairly early. Are you a "get it done" kind of person, or a intellectual thinker who prefers somebody else do the nuts and bolts of carrying something to production?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by metlin ( 258108 )

      Well, it's more about the opportunities than anything else.

      Many of the top tier firms (particularly in certain industries like management consulting or high finance) will not hire from regular colleges, unless you are a rock star. In which case, it isn't the college that does it anyway, it is the individual.

      You go to a top school, you work at a top firm, you get admitted into a top school for your MBA, you get into an executive position. Having a pedigree just makes it a lot easier, that is all.

      This is just

    • At Georgia Tech, the core classes of Calculus, Physics, Chemistry, and some others were taught in auditoriums with over 200 people in them. There was no opportunity to ask questions during lecture - it just would not be practical or fair. Consequently lectures were about as useful as watching the MIT free course ware you can now watch online for free. You went to lecture 3 days a week, and then went to a session 2 days a week with a teacher assistant, who was a graduate student doing this as a requireme

    • It's worth going to an elite college because elite colleges give better grades for the same work. As a student your goal is to get the best grades possible to get into the best graduate school.

  • by RightwingNutjob ( 1302813 ) on Sunday December 19, 2010 @05:04PM (#34609786)
    the distribution is not even. I've found complete idiots at some top schools, but I've also found smart people who are able to capitalize on the name of their institution to get interesting research problems to work on. That's almost definitely not exclusive to Ivy+, but is probably harder to find once you go down the ladder from places like Penn State and Illinois and GT, and 'flagship' institutions.
    • by formfeed ( 703859 ) on Sunday December 19, 2010 @05:52PM (#34610178)

      I've found complete idiots at some top schools, but I've also found smart people

      I guess these two groups are the ones that benefit the most from an elite college.

      If you're the dumb kid of a wealthy family, the elite college will help you to get a job that requires that you are looking good in a suit and have a prestigious degree.

      If you're smart, the elite school will have the resources you need and after college you will more easily be given the opportunity to prove yourself.

      • There's another group: the dumb kid who is really more of a diversity/sponsored program/goodwill acceptance. At my university (one of the "elite" ones) I have met maybe 10 or so strikingly stupid people in my few years here. For the most part, people are intelligent and able thinkers in most subjects, and while there are people who are skilled in some areas and lagging in others, there are some people who are just plain dumb. These people are lacking common logic, they can't understand basic concepts, and s
  • Or (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hsmith ( 818216 ) on Sunday December 19, 2010 @05:04PM (#34609788)
    Are those that go to the big elites more connected anyway, thus enabling them to obtain the higher paying jobs out of college? I would assume a Rockefeller could go to community college and still land a rather well paying job. Who you know and all that jazz...
    • Re:Or (Score:5, Interesting)

      by gbjbaanb ( 229885 ) on Sunday December 19, 2010 @05:08PM (#34609844)

      absolutely - that 40% extra over the "lesser" colleges tend to be because the students tend to come from wealthier families anyway. I wonder what the spread of the increase is across all students? ie - is it that 10 of them become billionaires which brings that average up among all students there?

    • by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Sunday December 19, 2010 @05:14PM (#34609900)

      Though there is a flipside to that: High end schools are often well connected themselves, as are their faculty, so going there can get you connections. Thing is that tends to be more true on a per-program basis. So in the event you have a field you really want to be in, particularly if it is something involving graduate work, then you need to look at what professors are good in that and choose the school accordingly. May turn out a "lesser" school in fact has a better, more connected, program in the area of your interest.

      But yes, it is another problem with the study. If the people have the connections anyhow, and a job is "waiting for them" so to speak, then the school they go to is not all that relevant.

      • So in the event you have a field you really want to be in, particularly if it is something involving graduate work, then you need to look at what professors are good in that and choose the school accordingly. May turn out a "lesser" school in fact has a better, more connected, program in the area of your interest.

        Which is basically what TFA said - there is more variability within schools than between schools. Just because a school has an excellent Computer Science department doesn't mean it's particularly

        • Just because a school has an excellent Computer Science department doesn't mean it's particularly good in Biology.

          To take that a step further (depending on what your educational goals are):

          Just because a school is considered to have an excellent Computer Science department (that is, it puts out great/important research in that field ) doesn't mean it's a good place to learn as an undergrad, and it doesn't guarantee you'll get a chance to touch any of that research even if you're an undergrad with an eye towards academia.

    • It's the American economic aristocracy in action. And no, you can't really earn your way in, you have to be born into it. The chances of any present (like you) getting in are about the same as winning a $100 million lottery.
    • by sribe ( 304414 )

      Are those that go to the big elites more connected anyway, thus enabling them to obtain the higher paying jobs out of college? I would assume a Rockefeller could go to community college and still land a rather well paying job. Who you know and all that jazz...

      And if you're from an ordinary middle class family, what do you think would be by far the most effective way to become more connected?


    • I agree with this to an extent. I went to an elite program at a semi-elite university on a scholarship (USC Film School). I learned a bit, but I also met several influential people and people who were well-positioned to become the next generation of leaders, and when I got out I had no trouble getting work through contacts.

      I learnered a lot as well, but if someone asks me how they can learn about production, I tell them to volunteer at the local public access station -- this is how I got started, and no, sh

    • Are those that go to the big elites more connected anyway, thus enabling them to obtain the higher paying jobs out of college?

      Coming out of an Ivy can open a very powerful network. I council undergrads at my alma mater to not focus on grades, but networking, unless they're going to grad school. Corporate recruiting is a good way to get a big-salary job you don't really deserve, and that typically sets a floor for your career. If you're pulling in $80K to start instead of $40K, does an extra $150K in debt

  • by Albanach ( 527650 ) on Sunday December 19, 2010 @05:06PM (#34609816) Homepage

    The article seems to assume that lots of folk attending elite schools are paying sticker for their education. From my understanding that's not the case.

    With the move to substantially increase tuition at all universities in England, there will be growing comparison against the sticker price at the top US schools. That, of course, is an unfair comparison as top US schools while undoubtedly expensive also have exceptional financial aid packages.

    While an in-state public university tuition will almost always be the most affordable, many will be able to attend top private schools for a similar amount. Very few will be paying the $45-50k talked about in the article.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Bruha ( 412869 )

      So you've done research on this? My wife attended a state college and paid nearly 60k, thankfully her grandmother paid for it all. In the end she was crowded out by foreigners and now works for less than what she trained for. BSEE.

      Lets do a study showing how H1B's are crowding out our college graduates because businesses have learned the costs savings vs having to pay a living wage. Until this problem is fixed, our wages are going to be flat for a long time, recessions or no recessions.

    • Skeptical -- Citation needed.

      In my case, coming from a rural middle-class family, I was accepted to an Ivy school and got bupkis for a financial aid offer. It would have beggared my family, which is why I went to state school instead.

  • Selection effects (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Vintermann ( 400722 ) on Sunday December 19, 2010 @05:08PM (#34609838) Homepage

    Are they considering selection effects at all? Yes, those who go to Ivy league may earn that much more - but would the same people have earned that much less if they for some reason didn't?

    • Re:Selection effects (Score:5, Informative)

      by rtfa-troll ( 1340807 ) on Sunday December 19, 2010 @05:40PM (#34610088)
      If you had RTFA:

      In 1999, economists from Princeton and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation looked at some of the same data Eide and his colleagues had used, but crunched them in a different way: They compared students at more selective colleges to others of "seemingly comparable ability," based on their SAT scores and class rank, who had attended less selective schools, either by choice or because a top college rejected them.

      The earnings of graduates in the two groups were about the same — perhaps shifting the ledger in favor of the less expensive, less prestigious route. (The one exception was that children from "disadvantaged family backgrounds" appeared to earn more over time if they attended more selective colleges. The authors, Stacy Berg Dale and Alan B. Krueger, do not speculate why, but conclude, "These students appear to benefit most from attending a more elite college.")

  • Contact (Score:5, Insightful)

    by b4upoo ( 166390 ) on Sunday December 19, 2010 @05:09PM (#34609856)

    From what I have seen it is the close personal contacts among wealthy families that make the difference and not the actual education. There are not so many people that can make a few phone calls and bring heavy investment money into a situation. After all, how many people can invest multi-millions in any project? They tend to know each other and their family members have the path prepared for them due to endowments to old ivy.

    • Their projects still have to make a profit no matter where the money comes from. Personal contacts make it easier to fund a project but you still need the talent and skills to succeed.
      • by rekoil ( 168689 )

        That's assuming that these are the kind of people who actually need to succeed in business in order to make a pile of dough. Lots of serial entrepreneurs do exactly the opposite, living on investment capital from one venture to the next.

    • As with so many questions, the answer is it depends. By going to elite school you get to hang out with people who are both smarter on average (to be able to get in) and whose families are wealthier on average (to be able to afford it). It's not a coincidence that so many successful startups come from Stanford, Harvard etc and not at some random state university. The faculty have better connections to (at Stanford you are likely to bump into a few Nobel prize winners when you wander around campus) and your f

    • by BeanThere ( 28381 ) on Sunday December 19, 2010 @05:49PM (#34610160)

      Yes, you build up a network of contacts in the world of the most successful people. But that is important. But interacting with successful people does more than just give you "contacts"; there is inherently automatically a "mentoring" effect.

      "But other researchers say the extent to which one takes advantage of the educational offerings of an institution may be more important, in the long run"

      This is theoretically true at an individual level. If I think to my own days in a third-world mediocre public school and university, I would say I ultimately managed to get a good education 'in spite of' my school/university, not because of it --- but even so, I often performed very poorly (regretfully), and if I had to name THE single-biggest thing that negatively influenced my performance, I would have to say it was being surrounded by almost 100% uniformly poor-performing peers; they were stupid, they were lazy, they didn't care, learning was the least important thing imaginable, and stupidity and laziness was basically celebrated. When 99.9% of a child's peers are like that, as happened with me, it is almost impossible not to be negatively influenced and 'dragged down' to some degree.

      Now, many years later, I have a baby on the way, and have to start thinking about where to send her someday. And I definitely feel that if I can afford it, I want her in one of the top-notch universities. Why? Not because I'm expecting miracles from the professors or infrastructure, but because I know she is most likely to be surrounded by a comparatively higher percentage of peers who are amongst those in society with the highest focus and motivation on hard work and success.

      It is oddly seldom mentioned, but beyond parenting and teachers, I think the quality of peers that your child sits with must have a huge influence on their outcomes.

      The other reason is that I indeed want my children to mingle with society's successful people, not just to build contacts, but because there is an inherent mentoring effect. Even spending a day with someone highly successful at something can make a young persons entire career. The most successful people in finance and investing, tend to have had top-notch mentors, and you can mostly only find those people in the upper echelons.

      Like it or not, many of the most successful IT entrepreneurs etc. do come from backgrounds that allowed them to attend top-notch universities, and there are reasons for that.

      Can children be successful in cheaper schools, sure, of course, but suddenly when parenthood looms I just think I want the statistically best chance for my kids, so they can have opportunities I never had.

  • by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Sunday December 19, 2010 @05:09PM (#34609862)

    So they say that you earn more if you went to a highly selective school than a non-selective one. Ok, fine, but the problem is that it doesn't mean you earn more BECAUSE you went to that school. The thing is if the school is being highly selective, it is getting only the best and brightest students, not to mention motivated. Those people are likely to go on to better things because they are smart, motivated, and so on.

    What you need to examine for something like this is how it compares between people that went to these schools and people that could have, but didn't. Those who had the grades and test scores, maybe even applied, but elected to go to a state school instead. My bet? Not much difference.

    In the job market you'll find that your university education matters little past your first job. It isn't 100% irrelevant or anything, but employers start to care a whole lot more about experience and references than they do about education. Where you went to school and what your GPA was will take a back seat to what you've done at work.

    Then, of course, in terms of it being "worth it," you have to consider the costs. Suppose you can go to a public school on scholarship, and the course load will allow you to work to cover other expenses. You can come out with a 4 year degree and zero debt. Now suppose you go to Harvard and have to pay $50,000 a year in tuition, and have no time to work so you accrue $15,000 in other living costs. You get out and owe $260,000, presuming interest was handled during your time in school (with costs that high, probably not). You now have to pay that, and its interest down. So you HAVE to make a lot more to break even. The money you spend on repaying your outstanding loans is money a person who did not accrue them could put in savings or invest.

    I certainly wouldn't tell people not to go to a top school, but I'd say do so only if you can afford it. If they give you a scholarship, or if your family has plenty of money to support you, then sure, go for it. Really can't hurt, though make sure you do research because some schools are better for one thing than others. MIT is famously bad for undergrads, good for grads. However trying to pay for the whole thing just because you managed to get in? Hmmm, I doubt that's very smart. You'd have to be assured a good bit more money, and that it would consistently stay higher, than if you didn't to make it worth it in the long run.

    • In the job market you'll find that your university education matters little past your first job. It isn't 100% irrelevant or anything, but employers start to care a whole lot more about experience and references than they do about education. Where you went to school and what your GPA was will take a back seat to what you've done at work.

      I second this. A college education gets you into the labor market for your first post-graduation job, but once you're actually looking for your second post-graduation job (or perhaps your third, depending how quickly you change jobs), it becomes far less important than your experience. 10 or 20 years down the road, if you haven't sought graduate school studies relevant to your field, then it is practically irrelevant what your education history is compared to your 10 to 20 years of job experience in your fi

  • Simple Rule (Score:5, Insightful)

    by IBitOBear ( 410965 ) on Sunday December 19, 2010 @05:14PM (#34609896) Homepage Journal

    Don't go take your under-graduate degree from a college that is famous for its graduate program, you will never see your professors, just their graduate student teaching assistants.

    You should pick a school that is "known for" the program you are going to take at the level you are going to take it. That can be well worth it.

    And the definition of famous needs to be curtailed. As some professionals in the field you intend to pursue whether what schools they "know are good". The answers to this are almost always rather surprising and often include some very good near-by or state schools.

    Schools "earn their branding" for a reason, but you have to _really_ _check_ the brand details and you also have to make sure that it isn't expired. Only the professionals in the field will know if the school that is famous for X to the general populace is really sitll famous for X amongst the topical peerage.

    • Re:Simple Rule (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Sunday December 19, 2010 @05:28PM (#34609990)

      That is something people really need to appreciate, that programs vary wildly within a school. Ranking overall universities is a bit silly since there is no way a university can be good at everything. It can certainly be fine at everything but you'll find they all have strengths and weaknesses. For example: Suppose you want to be a concert musician. You going to go to MIT? To Caltech? Why not? They are top schools! Well of course they are, but not for music. So going there would be a waste of money.

      Something else you'll discover is that state schools often have highly ranked, if not the top, programs in some areas. Now you might think "But the school name isn't as well known, it won't be as impressive." Not the case. While that might be true of the total university, it isn't true of the program and thus of people who are involved in that field. So the people you'll want to know, the people you'll be dealing with, they'll know. Equally importantly the processors there will be connected with those people out in industry.

      The only case that overall school name is the more important than program reputation would be if you are just getting a degree, any degree, and are going in to a field where it doesn't really matter. Then people may be more impressed by the name of the school.

  • by JoeBuck ( 7947 ) on Sunday December 19, 2010 @05:15PM (#34609910) Homepage
    Many of the most elite schools have a "legacy admissions" policy (that's how the C-student George W. Bush managed to get into Yale). It gives the children of alumni priority admission, because they want their richer alumni to keep contributing money, and denying little Biff or Muffy their admission would be bad business. It's affirmative action for the rich.
    • by Colonel Korn ( 1258968 ) on Sunday December 19, 2010 @07:37PM (#34610936)

      Many of the most elite schools have a "legacy admissions" policy (that's how the C-student George W. Bush managed to get into Yale). It gives the children of alumni priority admission, because they want their richer alumni to keep contributing money, and denying little Biff or Muffy their admission would be bad business. It's affirmative action for the rich.

      W got in just before Yale opened up for coeducation. As soon as women were admitted, admissions because very competitive. This was true across all elite colleges.

      Now, he'd have no chance of admission.

    • It's affirmative action for the rich.

      The difference is that these are private institutions making private decisions with private money. As long as the aren't discriminating based upon race, gender, nationality or sexual orientation there is little to stop them from giving preference to the children of rich alumni. Now in practice the number of slots reserved for children of rich alumni, deserving or not, are limited because at least some (perhaps most?) of these undergraduates must perform well enough to maintain the long term prestige of the

  • by xavdeman ( 946931 ) on Sunday December 19, 2010 @05:29PM (#34610000)
    We have elite subjects (educations). For example Med. school is really hard to get into, whether you try at UvA (University of Amsterdam) or something like the middle-of-nowhere UG (Groningen University). On the other hand, there are relatively few requirements for getting into Social Sciences. I don't get the USA system. What's the worth of an education the market isn't waiting for, even if you attended the most prestigious university? Harvard art students still don't become CEOs. I myself am studying Law at the University of Amsterdam and there is no elitism whatsoever with regard to the university. There is, however, a lot regarding universities in general compared to colleges and between studies. (e.g. "Law is better than art history!") Makes more sense. Please tell me your stories, I'm really interested.
    • I think that's because university/college (at least in the states) has become less about classical education and more about future job training. Now it's largely aimed at making you useful to the market rather than teaching you how to think and exposing you to a broad variety of ideas and concepts. Hence those subjects which can make you immediately profitable are given more status. I think the elite university ideas go back to when education was more about education and less about training. Then the un
  • by Billly Gates ( 198444 ) on Sunday December 19, 2010 @05:29PM (#34610002) Journal

    Who am I going to hire in a recession? A guy from Kansas State U or someone from M.I.T.? I would pick M.I.T. if both candidates were equally qualified. Experience counts more of course but the deal breaker would be the school.

    The debt ... well the guy from Kansas Sate working at Target will make more than you. 50% of yoru income will just go to payback loan and you will need a 2nd job to survive and eat due to the outrageous cost. But in 5 years when you are a manager you can then start to make up the difference. In 30 years when you are getting ready for retirement you will see the difference in your bank account. It just wont show for awhile due to the high outragous costs.

    Now if you do not find an I.T. job then you are wasting money. Some of you just wont work in I.T. Indians do these jobs now mostly and it is very competitive. Cross your fingers and take risks appropriately. Also do not bring in more than 100k in debt. Keep that as the limit.

    • by ninkendo84 ( 577928 ) on Sunday December 19, 2010 @06:35PM (#34610520) Homepage

      Doesn't quite mesh with the statistics I've heard. I've always heard that in a recession, the person with the lower education (assuming they're still qualified) is likely to get hired, because they're the one who is less likely to jump ship as soon as a better job comes around. It's the basic problem of being overqualified during a recession that a lot of people are facing.

  • If you have the abilities to get a good degree, or the personal/social/business contacts to leverage the reputation of the college or university then it could pay dividends. If you're just an average student you'll still be judged by what you can do and not by where you went to university.

    it's like buying a top of the range car. If you're a good enough driver to make use of the high performance then you'll reap the rewards. If you aren't interested in pushing the limits and only use it for day-to-day driv

  • by Burdell ( 228580 ) on Sunday December 19, 2010 @05:33PM (#34610030)

    If you have the money (or want the debt), go to a "name" school for the highest degree you plan to pursue. If you set out to get a Masters degree, then you can get your Bachelors at a less recognized school (such as a decent quality state school). You just don't want to get the lower degree(s) from a low-quality school (e.g. no accreditation, bad reputation, degree mill, etc.), because that could impact your ability to get into the higher-level program. For the most part, once you have the higher-level degree, nobody cares where you started, so don't waste money and effort (e.g. busting your ass for good grades at a high-difficulty school, when an easier program somewhere else would get you to the next level) at the beginning.

    If you aren't sure about the higher-level degree, or you don't always have good follow-through, go ahead and go to a bigger "name" school to start with.

    • The purpose of the big name school for undergrad is the contacts. Because either these people have money, or have skills in a greater degree than that of your state school counterparts (on an average, there are brains from state schools too). If your a brain, you can impress the people who will have money, if you've got money, you can shop for underfunded brains. And in some cases the students are also looking to get their MrS, of which its nice to snag someone of funds, all things being equal.
  • How would you calculate the average worth of a college that costs money compared to any university in for example Sweden, where you're actually paid some money to attend? Worth/monetary unit should be pretty good for most people.

  • It's not about the quality of the education, or even the prestige of the institution on your resume.

    It's about being around the people most driven to be successful. It drives you to try equally hard to succeed, gives you an opportunity to learn from people who are or will be successful, and allows you to build relationships with the people most likely to need you as a business partner or employee later.

  • some of the nation's wealthiest are good old boys where there family will get jobs any ways and they don't need to go to any College but do so as part the high class system.

  • by JakFrost ( 139885 ) on Sunday December 19, 2010 @05:39PM (#34610080)

    Is going to a University at all worth the cost?

    I was a computer geek from elementary school and knew where my career was heading. After an addiction to Ultima Online that resulted in too many absences I was given a choice of retaking a whole 6-month semester of high-school and being separated from my peers or dropping out of school. After a few months lounging around and playing the game some more I went to work in a large computer chain doing desktop and printer repairs, then worked as a junior server & desktop admin at an account firm trying to become a Dot-com, then started as a Wintel Server Admin (Systems Analyst) in a major Wall Street investment bank, and after 9/11 I worked for most of Wall Street firms as a contractor doing essentially the same thing making well over 6-figures.

    When the last economic slump hit even New York I took a position last year to move to Houston Texas to work for a major health care/hospital organization and I've been working as a Senior Windows Server Admin. I'm much happier now in this new city and the quality of life here is much better than what I had in NYC, even though I took a 20% pay cut but still remained in the 6-figure range with a higher or equal pay rate than some who have gone to universities.

    That's my story and I sometimes wonder how it would have turned out if I did go to a university? Would I have been working at a more difficult and prestigious job than a server admin making more money? Would I be happier? Or would I have turned out like some of my friends who went to college and came back no smarter or more educated but with a large financial debt making half as much money as I am?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      While it is a great story, and I'm happy you are having a good life. You have a survivorship bias. I don't believe your story would be reflective of a random sample of individuals who didn't graduate from High school. You don't have to graduate high school and college in order to be successful in life, but doing so increases the rate of success.
    • What most college graduates fail to understand is that you still have to work hard, network, and always continue learning.

      You did that anyway, and were successful. You started at a pay range no college grad would consider, but you used it as a stepping stone. Very successfully.

      You also got lucky. Without your contacts, if you were to lose your job, you'd be up a creek without a paddle. That's the danger of not having a degree - HR won't even shake your hand.

      The flip side is that most college grads feel that

  • by PJ6 ( 1151747 ) on Sunday December 19, 2010 @05:45PM (#34610118)
    After I graduated from MIT and went out into the "real world", everyone was like, we'll hire you because you can do anything. And if there was any truth in that, it came mostly as self-fulfilling prophecy; I owe much of my success to the simple faith my first bosses gave me. Tell anyone that they'll be great in some way they haven't yet realized and get them to really believe it and see what happens. The effect of a high-value degree is a double-edged sword, though, as it can set internal expectations that are extremely difficult to shed. I have to say, looking back, the effect of the education itself was quite inconsequential.
  • he attended Harvard, met Billyboy and became later a very rich man!
    • he attended Harvard, met Billyboy and became later a very rich man!

      (I'd rather not look at him, thanks... but...) If the school has instructors good enough, they'll get the students so insanely motivated and empowered that they'll bring out their best work during their peak early years. Whether or not they graduate at that point, the school will have succeeded in educating them, and succeeded admirably.

  • I went to a public high school with a intense IB program ( I worked hard and got into several very competitive private schools, and was hella excited until I got the financial aid package from each of them which wanted my family to pay 1/3rd of the income each year to send me there. Factoring in what my family could realistically have paid, I would have had to take out ~100k in loans for four years. I was pretty bummed out, and I ended up going to
  • by guacamole ( 24270 ) on Sunday December 19, 2010 @06:15PM (#34610346)

    A lot of states have terrific public universities. Just to name a few: California, Texas, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Washington, Arizona, North Carolina, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio, Iowa, Virginia, Maryland, and a few others have top public schools that are exceptionally good. The most important thing though is to have a focus on your career goals from early on. Set a goal from early on, and work on it. Don't wander around lecture halls and departments until your the end of junior year to find a major that fits you and then pick some lib arts major like political science or history. You'll end up with a lousy career. Think of a career path you like, think about subjects that you like, and think about how being in college can help you get there.

  • by dorpus ( 636554 ) on Sunday December 19, 2010 @06:21PM (#34610384)

    What if you go to some famous school, but all the good jobs are reserved for the "insiders" who have been going there for generations? Outside of this crowd, other employers may feel intimidated by your background and not want to hire you. Not all employers want a super-smart employee. Or if they do hire you, they may set you up for failure, because the boss wants to laugh about firing someone who went to a prestigious school.

    I went to a prestigious school, where everything people said had many layers of meaning, and everything was an advanced mind game. It took me a long time to trust simpler people who really mean what they say; people couldn't understand why I was so "paranoid". Well, I was in an environment where you had to be.

  • I compared my wife's school (a Liberal Arts School in Western Mass) with my own (Pac 10 school in Puget Sound). The only thing the schools shared were the school colors. The difference is really the people you go to school with. I went to classes (with hundreds of students) lectured by Nobel Laureates, but in fact got the bulk of teaching by the TA's. My classmates were good people, looking for a professional career, but nothing spectacular. My wife, on the other hand, had no class bigger than 100. Th
  • I plan on majoring in Unreal Estate.
  • by AlejoHausner ( 1047558 ) on Sunday December 19, 2010 @06:56PM (#34610690) Homepage
    Elite schools are the opiate of the middle class.

    As Walter Benn Michaels puts it in "The Trouble with Diversity," universities are where the rich send their children, in order to "launder their privilege into qualifications." What a great phrase!

    The USA claims to be a free and open society, where anyone can, through natural talent and hard work, rise to a higher class, and become wealthy and influential. But of course that's a lie. Social classes exist here just as they do in all countries, and the rich upper classes will always remain dominant, the poor you will always have with you, and the middle class will always be insecure and will strive to move into the upper class. It's not different here, it's just that we've been sold on the myth of equal opportunity.

    Because of this lie, the rich have to hide their inherited advantages, and must show evidence that they actually have talents and are hard-working. Middle-class workers have to be kept asleep, lest they realize that the people who own the corporation do so through wealth, and not through merit. Hence the corporate owners send their kids to Yale, Harvard, Princeton and Stanford, to mask that inherited privilege with the trappings of actual skill and effort.

    I've walked through the campus at Princeton, and the undergraduates there all appeared to float through space, as if life had never presented them with any obstacles, as if anything was possible, as if the future held great delights. They weren't snobbish. They were very nice people, but they truly knew that they were masters of their universe.

    So how does this relate to the NY times article in question? Why do private-university graduates have higher salaries than state-university graduates? Simply because they are rich and connected *BEFORE* they enter the hallowed halls. That wealth and advantage are there after they graduate, and helps them land great jobs. They would probably land those jobs if they didn't attend those schools, but then the resentful middle-class workers would smell a rat.

    In other words, the school you attend makes no difference. What matters is what class you were born into.

  • by call -151 ( 230520 ) * on Sunday December 19, 2010 @07:21PM (#34610844) Homepage

    There are many factors at work here. The various studies all have flaws as there are many interrelated variables and they are difficult to separate out. There is a complex choice here, and it is never as simple as these studies or stories make it out to be. Some things that are typically omitted:

    1) If your undergraduate degree is the last degree you are going to get, the importance of that institution is elevated somewhat.
    2) If you plan to get an advanced degree, one main goal of undergraduate education is to increase the likeliehood that you will get into a top graduate program and do well there.
    2b) Top graduate programs in science and engineering are much more likely to take strong students from research universities, particularly those undergraduates who already took some graduate-level courses or had specific productive experience with undergraduate research.

    Expounding a bit:

    1) For careers in finance or management, many strong firms only consider students from very strong universities. If that is your career path, that could be an important criterion. Similarly, if your only degree will be undergraduate in some other field where generally the expectation is just an undergraduate degree, that choice of institution of course matters more. In terms of studies that look at average salary, this effect can dominate others as these are often high-paying fields with great variance in salary.

    2) In general, I recommend that good students go to the "best" place that they get into. That is, the most academically rigorous usually works well. Overdoing it can be a problem, if they go to a place where the expectations are simply to high and they struggle and fail. But most commonly, the advantage of going to a strong place is that the other students are also strong, and the professors can then teach at a reasonable level for their audience. That is, often the other students are the limiting factor to the depth of a course's coverage and so you want to be at the best place you can be and still succeed. That is a good route to the preparation needed for doctoral-level courses.

    2b) I've had to serve on various doctoral admissions committees, and students from big research universities are much more known quantities. Professors at these institutions have more experience with students continuing on to graduate school (and seeing their own students and other graduate students in their departments) and the students have a pretty good idea of what they are getting into. There have been too many students from small liberal arts colleges, whose letters of recommendation said "this is the best student I've seen in years" who took all the available courses there and excelled grade-wise, but who struggled and turned out to be poorly prepared or just overwhelmed by doctoral level work, or simply didn't really realize what they were getting into. So occassionally there are students from such backgrounds who do OK, but it isn't common and I can't recommend it as a good route to a strong graduate program. It may be the case that their smaller college instructors there are more involved in their teaching, classes are smaller, facilities are better, and they may in fact actually learn more at their institution and be happier there, but that doesn't really carry much weight for eventual graduate study.

    FWIW, I went to an elite US research university for my undergraduate, and went to a top US research university for my PhD. I have taught or held research appointments post-Ph.D. in a wide range of institutions, from one of the weaker Ivy League institutions to top tier public research universities to mid-tier public research universities and I have a strong record of research funding as a professor judged primarily on research. People from many backgrounds ask for my advice about university choices in science and engineering as there is a culture of excessive obsession about "the right institution" for their choice.

  • by spaceyhackerlady ( 462530 ) on Sunday December 19, 2010 @07:55PM (#34611042)

    In the late '90s I was making plans to go back to school for my Masters, and this was very much an issue I looked at.

    I looked at the possibility of going to a relatively unknown school where i could quietly do something really interesting. I also looked at some Big Name schools. I ended up going to a Big Name (University of Toronto), who had more funding. I was poor enough that I had no choice: I took the money and ran, and ended up doing some really interesting stuff.

    Since a graduate degree is so much more what you put in to it, doing your own research, do people feel names are as important for grad students?


  • A book I wrote: []
    "Post-Scarcity Princeton, or, Reading between the lines of PAW for prospective Princeton students, or, the Health Risks of Heart Disease"

    From there:

    The fundamental issue considered in this essay is how an emerging post-scarcity society affects the mythology by which Princeton University defines its "brand", both as an educational institution and as an alumni community. ...

    Consider a prospective Princeton student evaluating whether an elite education at Princeton is a good investment of four years of her or his youth -- as well as a the direct expenses and indirect opportunity cost of lost wages. How should such a person evaluate the Princeton University "brand" these days, given, say, Donald Rumsfeld '54 as a PU poster boy? [] []
    "Children Pay Cost of Iraq's Chaos" []
    And also, how should a bright student interested in a future of independent intellectual effort see a PU investment in relation to perhaps a future PhD and professorship if they stay on the academic track all the way? Is it worth it? Should they really sacrifice, say, creating their own personalized "brand" on their own in the internet age from day one, as opposed to trying to build a life under the Princeton "brand" and so perhaps follow in Donald Rumsfeld's footsteps?

    Here is an analogous example of someone choosing to pass up working at Apple to continue developing their own personal brand:
    "Why I passed up the chance to work at Apple" []
    A visitor comment from that web site:

    Apple has nothing on Cameron Moll. Sure, Apple is a wonderful brand. But where Apple is in the business of design, Cameron strikes me as one in the business of the art of design, and that may appear to be a subtle difference at first glance. But it isn't. ... You have built a brand for and of yourself, and I personally admire your accomplishment. I believe you describe an important self-discovery: you value the Cameron Moll brand more than you value the mighty Apple brand.

    By coincidence (if such really exist? :-), such a prospective student need look no further that the current (May 14, 2008) issue of the Princeton Alumni Weekly (Cover story: "The new rules of financial aid"): []
    to understand how the "Princeton University" brand may need to be rethought in a collaborative GNU/Linux & Wikipedia internet age. Is it still advisable to align oneself with the historic Princeton University brand in an emerging post-scarcity society? Or, to be fair, to align one's personal brand with how that historic PU brand is now seen by the public, acknowledging there is always a lot going on at Princeton in different directions? I'd also suggest there are more alumni than just me who have stopped buying PU-related automobile window stickers (see below for more on that).

    That choice of self-branding versus main-stream branding in the internet age is related to the idea of "post-scarcity". I will define that better later, but for now, let's just imagine a future where beer everywhere in t

  • Any elite school is to some degree in the business of exchanging additional money for prestige. The Ivy League especially. If you plan to enter elite level law and/or finance, it's pretty much a given that you need to exit school with an Ivy dip (esp. if no family connections).

    If you don't aspire to the commanding heights of Wall Street, the Loop, D.C. or academia, the added value is slim.

  • by tompaulco ( 629533 ) on Sunday December 19, 2010 @10:54PM (#34612194) Homepage Journal
    A more important questions is: why is the cost of a public university, for which every homeowner pays thousands of dollars a year, still half the cost of a private institution which receives no public funding.
    I recall less than 20 years ago going to a stated funded public university with no financial aid, and paying about $1,200 per semester including books. Now, 20 years, later, inflation having slightly less than doubled, my stepson is going to a public university that wants him to pay about $9,000 per semester.
    Incomes and Real Estate taxes have risen, and the percentage that we are taxed for eduction has gone up, yet somehow, the cost of going to a public school has still gone up by more than 7 times. Obviously someone is doing a very poor job with our money and they need to be removed from office.
  • by wisebabo ( 638845 ) on Sunday December 19, 2010 @11:20PM (#34612396) Journal

    I went to a reunion at a very elite college and they had the results of a survey sent out to the alumn.

    One answer to the question, "Do you think 's name helped you?" was:

    "Yes, it opened many doors... and legs"

All Finagle Laws may be bypassed by learning the simple art of doing without thinking.