Do Elite Colleges Make A Difference?

Photo_8198_carousel We've debating the pros and cons of elite colleges before on this blog. Now, the NYT has joined in.

One interesting finding:

A long-term study of 6,335 college graduates published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that graduating from a college where entering students have higher SAT scores — one marker of elite colleges — didn't pay off in higher post-graduation income. Researchers found that students who applied to several elite schools but didn't attend them — either because of rejection or by their own choice — are more likely to earn high incomes later than students who actually attended elite schools.

8 thoughts on “Do Elite Colleges Make A Difference?

  1. I don’t pay much attention to digests unless I can see the original paper (and the NBER reports are pretty restrictive).
    This is a 1999 study, and the digest info leaves several questions out there that contradict the general conclusion. For example, SAT scores of institutions weren’t correlated with higher income, but higher tuition was. In addition, the digest is unclear on whether selectivity measured other ways (for example, actually selectivity, as in the number of applicants they reject) has an effect.
    I’ve also never found the data showing that students who are accepted to selective colleges but don’t go there are not worse off than those who do very convincing because I’ve never seen those samples as being comparable. Choosing not to go to a selective school is in itself a defining characteristic. The data is cited as though it was a random assignment study (randomly have part of the sample that got into a selective school go elsewhere). But, of course, it’s not.

  2. The data is cited as though it was a random assignment study…
    Do you really think it necessary for them to clarify that they lacked the ability to randomly assign students to different colleges?

  3. Here’s a claim that at mid-career you make $50000 a year more if you went to Stanford than if you went to Cal State Dominguez Hills: http://www.mercurynews.com/portlet/article/html/imageDisplay.jsp?contentItemRelationshipId=3406164
    It’s interesting to me because the differences are pretty big and they do go in the direction of conventional wisdom. But, in fact, Chico State will take nearly any hs grad with a ‘b’ average, and for Stanford you need to walk on water in high school.

  4. “Do you really think it necessary for them to clarify that they lacked the ability to randomly assign students to different colleges?”
    No, but my point was that journalists talk about that subset of data as though it was comparable to a random assignment, and it’s not. People who’ve lotteried in to charter schools but not attended are also not a random assignment (though they’re a bit closer).

  5. Having chosen not to go to a super-elite school myself (instead I went to a merely-elite school) I agree with bj. I turned down an undergraduate place at Cambridge (Uk) something that is almost unheard of (still, but soon that will change because of tuition variation). Everyone I’ve met who has done it (to Cambridge or Oxford) immediately strikes me as more remarkable than I am. None, though, makes a lot of money (compared with actual Oxford and Cambridge grads) but that is no surprise, given the values that lead one to do that.

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