Like most people with young children, Mr. Jane and I spend a certain amount of time thinking about the cost of college (when we're not worrying about getting the kids through elementary school or, cringe at the thought, junior high). We're both first generation college students and went to a big state university. So, you can imagine my relief when I read an article in the Oct. 10th New Yorker that touches on the relative merits of paying for an Ivy League school. The complete article, by Malcolm Gladwell, "Getting In: The Social Logic of Ivy League Admissions," is on pages 80-86; this exceprt is on pages 83-84.
“As a hypothetical example, take the University of Pennsylvania and Penn State, which are two schools a lot of students choose between,” [Alan] Krueger says. “One is Ivy, one is a state school. Penn is much more highly selective. If you compare the students who go to those two schools, the ones who go to Penn have higher incomes. But let’s look at those who got into both types of schools, some of whom chose Penn and some of whom chose Penn State. Within that set it doesn’t seem to matter whether you go to the more selective school. Now you would think that the more ambitious student is the one who would choose to go to Penn, and the ones choosing to go to Penn State might be a little less confident in their abilities or have a little lower family income, and both of those factors would point to people doing worse later on. But they don’t.”
Kruger says there is one exception to this. Students from the very lowest economic strata do seem to benefit from going to an Ivy. For most students, though, the general rule seems to be that if you are a hardworking and intelligent person you’ll end up doing well regardless of where you went to school. You’ll make good contacts at Penn. But Penn State is big enough and diverse enough that you can make good contacts there, too. Having Penn on your resume opens doors. But if you were good enough to get into Penn you’re good enough that those doors will open for you anyway.
The full study:
Dale, Stacy Berg and Alan B. Krueger. "Estimating the Payoff to Attending a More Selective College: An Application of Selection on Observables and Unobservables." December, 1998.
is available as a 54 page pdf file here.
For discussion on the topic see this article from MSN Money and this one from the Chronicle of Higher Education.
One of the little Janes attended a week-long summer class at a Penn State campus and has declared intentions of going to college there. Mr. Jane and I are encouraging any attachment to any college, if only as a carrot to wave when it is time to write book reports ("if you don't finish it on time, you'll never get into Penn State..."), but we are also very aware that Penn State is far more in line with our budget than anything with ivy on it. And so, being proud state school alums ourselves, we are pleased to see that the student makes the college experience as much as the choice of college does.