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01/27/2013

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Gertrud Fremling

You state: "As a result, the economic gains to graduates from the top schools have risen greatly during the past 40 years." How solid is the evidence for this? Are we possibly not just looking at the effects of almost all students attending prestigious colleges being super smart, ambitious, hard-working and with the right family connections?

I might not be aware of the very latest research on this, but I am looking at a paper by Stacey Berg Dale and Alan B. Kreuger , "Estimating the Payoff to Attending a More Selective College: An application of Selection on Observables and Unobservables" published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, Nov. 2002. The bottom line was that when you carefully compare students who truly are the same quality students, the return to going to the more prestigious college is very small or even none. In other words, a student who actually managed to get into a more prestigious college but then deliberately chose a less prestigious one ended up with very similar earnings to the "same" student who chose a prestigious one.

Starting salaries for college graduates today seem to reveal a stronger pattern of occupational differences than the precise ranking of the college. Anyone going into technical fields in demand, such as oil engineering or mining, easily outlearns most liberal arts Ivy leaguers.

Terry Bennett

I'm sure if you simply look at the cost of the investment and assume the investment was necessary to the outcome, this raw return on investment calculation will show a higher ROI for today's elite graduate than for a similar elite graduate 40 years ago. I took this to be Dr. Becker's assertion.

I believe Gertrud above is suggesting that the opportunity cost to a highly gifted individual in choosing an elite school may just about equal this raw return, negating at least one of the reasons for enrolling in the first place. Anecdotally, I observe that certain top-flight individuals are going to do well no matter what impediment is put in front of them, including a lack of pedigree, so I would suspect she is right at least at the top end. I would still expect however that for the person who graduated from Harvard with the lowest GPA in the class, whether due to lack of IQ or lack of energy toward the curriculum, the return is quite significant, i.e., a marginally able individual who can wave a Harvard diploma will likely be able to exploit that one superlative accomplishment and go much further in a career than without it - also a phenomenon I observe regularly.

Rod TheBod

"exploit that one superlative accomplishment"

My more idealistic side likes to think that our society and its institutions have a plan to identify and promote worthy individuals at every step and at every level. I hope there are more judges of worth along the way besides the admissions officers at Ivy League colleges.

Jdwalton

What accounts for 125 Harvard students being censured for cheating on a "Governments" class? I mean, who has to cheat on something which should be hard-wired into the fabric of their existence?

Christopher Graves

Frankly, I do not see from my personal experience any basis for so-called elite colleges having the reputation for excellence that they do. I have attended two of these schools as well as large state universities, a private Catholic liberal arts school, and a fundamentalist school. The worst was the fundamentalist school, but it did have some good teaching and by far and away the best cultural offerings such as opera, symphonies, Shakespearean plays, weekly Vesper programs replete with poetry and short dramas as well as a first rate art collection.

But next in order of poor quality teaching are the two elite private universities. While there were a few good classes as there were in the fundamentalist school, most of the teaching was non-existent or poor. In one graduate seminar, the professor said that he should not say anything or even answer a question. All he did was preside over the students' discussions. When professors did teach the classes, they tended to take up topics as they seemed to randomly pop into their heads as they spoke in hurried, elliptical phrases. In courses where I was already familiar with the subject matter, I thought to myself at the time that if I did not already know what they were referring to, I would be lost. In classes where I was not familiar with the subject matter, I was lost. I had to either stop attending ( I was sitting in a couple of classes attempting to gain an introduction to the subjects) or I had to go find books and articles that explained the subject matter in a clear manner. I had fairly extensive contact with undergraduates at one of these schools since I lived in a block off-campus that was primarily student rentals. They asked me for help because they did not understand what was being presented in their introductory classes.

The best schools were the Catholic liberal arts college where I took additional classes and two large state schools where I was enrolled in graduate programs. The departments that I studied in at the state schools were highly ranked. The professors actually taught the classes in a reasonably-paced, clear manner. I understood and mastered the material much better at these schools. I also enjoyed studying at these schools more since the stress was much less. I do not like stress and do not do well under stress. I heard several other students and faculty at the other elite university that I attended who had contact with one of the state universities that I attended to notice the same points of contrast between the two schools--viz., clarity and reduced stress. I also found that I could play with ideas more freely in class discussions and in papers at the state schools than at the elite schools.

As for the interaction with other students, there is no question that the elite schools provided better classmates and other students to socialize with and to discuss issues raised in class. The students at the elite schools taken as a whole were more personable, more enthusiastic, more intelligent, more articulate, and more enjoyable to be with.

Shelley Greenaway

i really don't see why everyone is so obsessed with going to these elite places that will cost a lot of money! i'm a national diploma student in the UK who is planning to pass the course so i could go to an art and technology college in somerset to do a degree. Ok, so it's no cambridge or yale, but i'd rather go to a college that may not be in the same league as the big colleges but i'd rather go to a smaller college and get more out of it than a big university and get nothing!

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