Is there a longterm economic advantage to attending a highly selective college, like an Ivy League school, as compared to a local public university? The answer may not be so simple, at least according to a recent study. In fact, the answer, according to that study, depends on the student. Economists from Tulane University, University of Virginia, and Virginia Tech recently published a study that found no relationship between longterm earnings potential and the selectivity of the college the student attended — for men. For women, the study’s authors identified that women who attended highly selective colleges earned significantly more than their peers who did not attend such institutions. The study also identified the economic benefit to attending such schools for minority and low-income students, but it did not identity the economic benefit for, well, their white male peers.
Ivy League Degree is a Ticket to Upward Mobility for Some
As Derek Thompson reports for “The Atlantic” in a piece entitled “Does It Matter Where You Go to College?,” “Selective schools also seem to make a difference in the lives of minorities and students whose parents have no college education. A 2017 study led by the economist Raj Chetty found that lower-income students at an elite school such as Columbia University have a ‘much higher chance of reaching the [top 1 percent] of the earnings distribution’ than those at an excellent public university, such as Suny Stony Brook in Long Island.”
Thompson continues, “Why would elite institutions be so good at improving upward mobility for minorities, but not for their whiter, richer peers? After all, they’re listening to the same professors, sitting in the same chairs, and taking the same tests. But remember, college isn’t just about instruction. It’s also about alumni networks and signaling effects. Kids from rich families often rely on help from their parents to obtain selective internships and high-paying entry-level jobs. For kids without plugged-in parents, elite colleges are the plug that connect these students to the most dynamic industries and jobs: In loco rich parentis.”
Ivy League Degree is a Way to ‘Trust But Verify’ For the Already Elite
So, essentially, the findings of this particular study suggest that Ivy League and other highly selective colleges offer some students — but not all students — a longterm economic advantage. The study suggests that the male children of wealthy white parents don’t stand to economically benefit from an education at one of our nation’s elite universities — at least as compared to their female counterparts or the children of non-wealthy, non-white parents.
And what do we think about all of this? We’re surprised these folks needed to conduct a whole scientific study just to determine that female students as well as low-income and minority students of both genders, have more to gain than their white male peers from a top education. It’s a no-brainer if you ask us. If an employer sees an African American applicant’s resume with a degree from Columbia University right on top, of course that applicant is going to have an advantage over African American applicants without that Ivy League degree on top. And for while male applicants, that degree on top helps in big ways, too. Sure, these students’ parents may already be — in some cases — ‘plugged in,’ but that degree on top reinforces to their parents’ friend’s friend of a friend who is interviewing them for a job that they can succeed.
All students benefit, including economically, from an education at a top American university. But that doesn’t mean all groups of students who graduate from these schools benefit equally, economically-speaking. And we don’t remember anyone suggesting all groups benefit equally anyway. So there’s that.