The Price of Prestige

As college costs see significant increases yearly, students who once had their eyes set on big name post-secondary institutions of supreme prestige are beginning to rethink their plans for beyond high school graduation dates. Between 2004 and 2010, tuition for one private university in California jumped from $28,000 per year to $45,000 per year – causing the total estimated yearly expenses including tuition, fees, books, housing, food, and insurance to leap from an approximate $40,000 per year to $55,000 per year. Students at public colleges are also facing greater financial obligations as state and federal governments continue decreasing the funding allotted to schools, and shifting to more loans over grants to offer students as part of their financial aid packages. Even parents, who have planned way ahead, are finding themselves left behind as the average student debt of college graduates – over $20,000 with a 20% default rate that ranks higher than default against any other consumer debt – only continues increasing in the wake of these rising costs.Add to those financial challenges the reality of a 5% unemployment rate among college grads, which – despite being the lowest rate among any other comparable groups – raises the question among the graduates who encounter trouble finding work in their fields, if at all, of whether the expense (and debt) they incurred in pursuit of higher education was worth it after all.With statistics indicating that the average high school graduate earns about $24,000 per year in comparison with the average college graduate salary of $55,000 per year, it seems that higher education is certainly worth it, ultimately.A study conducted by Princeton, an Ivy League school itself, concluded that none of its findings demonstrated that undergraduates attending elite schools fared better than their counterparts at less elite schools upon graduating – graduates from each camp earned similar salaries after graduation, with the only exception being among first generation college graduates and students from lower income families. Only within that subgroup did researchers notice consistently higher post-graduate incomes among those who attended elite schools over less competitive schools.With the total cost of education at two-year colleges in the neighborhood of $6000, compared to $56,000 at a public four year college or $140,000 at private colleges, and financially savvy students and parents are beginning to cringe at the understanding that borrowing money to cover these costs means owing even more down the line, many nevertheless welcome the dreaded loans, financial drain of savings and income, and stresses of working during school in exchange for degrees from a place they believe will alter the course of their futures in a way no other avenue would make possible. But studies are demonstrating that the assumption that the larger debt incurred to attend the most elite, private university that will admit a given student is necessarily worth the end result may be largely unfounded. It turns out that when it comes to undergraduate education, when all else is equal, simply attending a more prestigious (and pricey) school does not consistently offer an edge in the job market.In fact, because the one factor that did consistently show distinction within success level of students from each school was class rank, findings point to the idea that being a prominent pupil at a smaller, less notable school is ultimately more beneficial than being considered an average student who blends in with a student body of similarly intelligent and impressive peers. Elite school or not, ranking 25th at an elite college yields far less of a benefit down the line than ranking 1st at a less competitive institution. Because the top students at any schools will always be the most frequently awarded and recognized, they will also inevitably be the top recruited students from their respective institutions. Therefore, another factor that can make a strong difference – rather than how elite a particular institution is – is how vast its alumni network is.When it comes to graduate school, however, findings show that prestige does have more impact, suggesting that the best option for college bound students is to opt for less expensive undergraduate programs, then splurge on a graduate degree from the most elite school that will have them – especially since findings also show that attending elite undergraduate programs gives students virtually no advantage in admissions processes for elite graduate programs, even within the same school.Therefore, while a college degree does still appear to be vital to the success that ambitious students crave, it is becoming increasing vital to balance the cost of higher education against what’s financially reasonable and realistic for that given scholar.

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Tuition, college, prestige, school

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