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Does It Matter Where You Go to College?

December 20, 2010

New York Times columnist Gail Collins shared some interesting thoughts when she noted that the national fixation on where students attend college makes little sense.   The discussion moved to the “Room for Debate” section and included several experts with differing views on the issue.  There are some compelling arguments on both sides of the debate.

  • 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.
  • Yet researchers have long found it difficult to tease out the labor market effects of college quality versus other characteristics that employers reward. The problem is that students who attend selective schools are likely to have higher earnings potential regardless of where they attend college for the very same reasons that they were admitted to the more selective schools in the first place.
  • If you attend a highly selective college, the per pupil expenditure is $92,000, compared with just $12,000 at the least selective colleges.
  • 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.

In a summary of the findings, the bureau says that “evidently, students’ motivation, ambition and desire to learn have a much stronger effect on their subsequent success than average academic ability of their classmates.”

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