Must read article from -Dstark

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Discus: College Search and Selection: August 2004 Archive: Must read article from -Dstark
By Carolyn (Carolyn) on Wednesday, August 18, 2004 - 05:02 pm: Edit

Dstark posted this on the parent's board - I thought it was a very interesting article that should be "must reading" for everyone about to apply to college:

By Anthony (Anthony) on Wednesday, August 18, 2004 - 11:46 pm: Edit

Quote from the article:

"Getting into a brand-name school does notimprove your life. A 1999 study by Mellon Foundation researcher Stacy Berg Dale and Princeton economist Alan B. Krueger shows that students with the char-acter traits that bring success in life—persistence, charm, humor—are doing just as well financially 20 years after college graduation regardless of whether they went to a college with high average SATs."

I think it is very irresponsible of this author to mention the *ONE* study that claimed there is no link between college and lifetime earnings but not mention the twenty or so studies that show that there *is* a link, and not discuss the errors with the Krueger study that other researchers have commented on.

By Mikemac (Mikemac) on Thursday, August 19, 2004 - 12:55 am: Edit

Carolyn, this study has been popularized in the press but I think the study has been shaded (by the paper authors no less!) to give this conclusion.

In the preface the report states "We find that students who attended more selective colleges do
not earn more than other students who were accepted and rejected by comparable schools but attended
less selective colleges." This is the part widely quoted in the press.

However in a draft of the paper the VERY NEXT sentence says "However the Barrons rating of selectivity and the tuition charged by the school are significantly related to the student's subsequent earnings". See

BTW if you're wondering what Barron's has to do with all of this, the study looked back to students entering college in 1978 and at that time the US News and other popular rankings didn't exist. Barron's was the place to turn if you wanted independent rankings of selectivity.

In the body of the draft on page 26 they write "The effect of the Barrons rating is more robust to our attempts to adjust for unobserved school selectivity than the average SAT score. Based on the straightforward regression results in Column 1, men who attend the most competitive colleges earn 23% more than men who attend the very selective colleges, over variables in the equation being equal. The estimated effect ... is even more robust for women".

Somehow in the officially published version of the paper all the reference to this impact of selectivity got dropped (see

It should be kept in mind that Krueger is well known for his populist approach to economics; for example he is also a advocate of raising the minimum wage and claims (contrary to virtually all other studies and econ texts) that raising the minimum wage has no effect on employment of those workers. Hence it would not be surprising that he would want to find that pricy elite colleges don't help future earnings.

My suspicion is that the draft paper didn't make a strong enough statement for him. They had found that for any given student, it didn't matter if they chose from their acceptances to attend the college that had the highest average SAT score. And, they note, "college selectivity is typically measured by the average characteristics (eg. SAT score) of classmates". So by a little verbal algebra they were able to announce that selectivity didn't matter, and this is what you hear in the press today.

This pure claim was dirtied by the fact they had found that SELECTIVITY DID MATTER. Crude measurements like equating selectivity to SAT average didn't reveal it, but when you used judgement to decide where schools fell on the range of selectivity (such as those in the Barron's list) they found a HUGE effect due to selectivity, 23% for male earnings. Their research revealed that for a given student, if he chose a college based not on the average SAT score of the student body but on a more refined measure of selectivity there was a big effect on earnings. Oops!!!

So they buried this result. There is nary a mention of Barrons or alternative measures of selectivity in the final paper.

My take is that the research shows there IS a significant impact to attending a more selective college when selective is intelligently defined. Virtually all other studies have found this effect, and even the pre-publication version of this study acknowledged it and labeled it as "significant". Whether it is the smaller classes, higher expectations of the faculty, just having access to more opportunities by virtue of being surrounded by privileged students, or some other factors, it is impossible to say. But it seems there are economic reasons as well as other more personal reasons to prefer to attend a selective college.

By Dstark (Dstark) on Thursday, August 19, 2004 - 01:11 am: Edit

If you look at Gates, Buffett, Ellison and Dell alone you would have to wonder if graduating from a top school really matters.

By Alexandre (Alexandre) on Thursday, August 19, 2004 - 01:56 am: Edit

I agree with Dstark and Carolyn. They have experience and they know universities. Nobody is saying that going to a great university does not help, what the article is saying, what Carolyn and Dstark are trying to impress on us, is that that if one does not go to a top university, they can still succeed.

Let me give you guys a fact to illustrate their point. I have worked at 5 companies in the real world for a grand total of 10 years. I have had 5 bosses, one in each company. All of them were at least directors (a couple of them were VPs). And they weren't men and women in their 60s mind you. They were all in the late 30s and early 40s. They were on their way up the corporate ladder. And we aren't talking about little companies either. We are talking about companies like Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, Ford, Schwab and Eaton. All of them are Fortune 500. Not one of those directors or VPs went to a university you would recognize. No one of them.

Let us look at some numbers shall we.

250,000 undergraduate students attend the nation's top 25 research universities and top 25 LACs. There are 14,000,000 college students. Sure the 250,000 who attend the top schools have an edge, but in the real world, nobody remembers where you got your degree. It is how you do at work that will determine your level of success, not which school you attend.

By Carolyn (Carolyn) on Thursday, August 19, 2004 - 04:32 pm: Edit

Alexandre, Exactly - There's absolutely nothing wrong with people who have the stats for a top school choosing that route --- but doing so doesn't automatically guarantee success. More importantly, if you don't get into the school of your dreams it doesn't mean you won't succeed in life!

In the real world, your educational credits are listed LAST on your resume for a reason. What matters most is what you've actually done on the job, how you've developed your talents, and your own drive and intelligence -- all three of those things depend far less on the name of your college then they do on your own internal drive to succeed.

I think the bottomline can be summed up in two questions: will you automatically be a success if you go to a top 25 university or college? No. Will you automatically be a failure if you go to a decent college no one has heard of? No.

By Newnudad (Newnudad) on Thursday, August 19, 2004 - 04:55 pm: Edit

Mikemac - GREAT POST - Thanks!

By Bern700 (Bern700) on Thursday, August 19, 2004 - 05:22 pm: Edit

mikemac great post!

I agree that going to a top 25 school doesn't gaurantee success but I do think that your opportunities are much greater which could *allow* someone to be successful in life if you go to a top 25. Alexandre stated that her 5 bosses went to no name schools. However, if you look at Ibanks (which is primarily the industry in which Alexandre worked) you will notice a trend - most Ibanks recruits the VAST MAJORITY of their employees from TOP 25 schools. This doesn't mean that someone not from a top 25 school won't make it. All it means is that by going to a top 25 school you'll open up more doors initially. I can gaurantee you that a student from Yale will *initially* have way more opportunities open to him in comparison with someone from a non top 25 school. I still believe, though, that many times its not about the school, its about the *student* and his or her drive, ambition, attitude, character, etc. However going to a top 25 school might help someone with these qualities to succeed more easily due to the opportunities that the person will have just by going to a top 25 school.

By Dstark (Dstark) on Thursday, August 19, 2004 - 05:26 pm: Edit

I don't understand the love of i-banks.
Yes, if you want to work as an investment banker on the east coast you better go to one of THE schools. Did you see Google? Investment bankers are going to be squeezed just like everybody else.
I am sure there are a few other jobs where going to a certain school helps.
For the rest of us,
who cares.

By Bern700 (Bern700) on Thursday, August 19, 2004 - 05:31 pm: Edit

I still think your opportunities are much much much better *initially* if you go to a top 25 school. Better opportunities can lead to success if you are smart, driven, and ambitious. It's been proven in a plethora of studies that your chances of becoming successful by going to a top 25 school are improved. I'm not going to believe some guy who manipulated numbers and left out critical info just because he was biased. See mikemac's post.

By Dstark (Dstark) on Thursday, August 19, 2004 - 05:33 pm: Edit

I read his post.
Where are the plethora of studies that say the opposite?
Any links?

By Bern700 (Bern700) on Thursday, August 19, 2004 - 05:54 pm: Edit

just look at the very study you were raving about.

"Based on the straightforward regression results in Column 1, men who attend the most competitive colleges earn 23% more than men who attend the very selective colleges, over variables in the equation being equal. The estimated effect ... is even more robust for women".

so going to a more selective college (so in essence top tier colleges) will lead to greater pay and in this world sadly success if measured in financial terms.

I'm too lazy to look up other ones and frankly don't have time. But it's funny to see that the Kreuger manipulated his final publishing in order to get his desired result. Although, in reality, he actually ended up proving that it pays (literraly) to go to a top school. I think that one can be successful coming out of any school however, if you take advantage of the opportunities that are available to you at at top college than success can be easier to find.

By Dstark (Dstark) on Thursday, August 19, 2004 - 05:58 pm: Edit

We don't know cause and effect.
I would also consider that the cost of schools has gone up a trememdous amount since this study was published.
Any payback when considering cost may no longer exist.
Where are you going to school?

By Bern700 (Bern700) on Thursday, August 19, 2004 - 06:00 pm: Edit

you make a good point. I go to Penn (wharton specifically).

By Dstark (Dstark) on Thursday, August 19, 2004 - 06:07 pm: Edit

Wharton is great. Wharton will give you a head start.
Then again, you got into Wharton.
You must have some nice abilities that you brought to the table.

By Thedad (Thedad) on Thursday, August 19, 2004 - 09:53 pm: Edit

Exactly...figuring out how much of Bern's future success is due to Wharton and how much is due to Bern being Bern is bootless hypothetical exercise.
To really find out, we'd have to clone Bern and send him to several different schools and then compare results.

Yet another factor of going to a top school is indirect: the peer factor. It's not that the top schools have a better class of mechanics pouring a higher grade of education into empty skulls--though I'm sure some of this happens as well--but the atmosphere and competition of being in a highly charged environment can spur a student's development.

By Bern700 (Bern700) on Thursday, August 19, 2004 - 11:07 pm: Edit

very well put Thedad. I wanted to add that as one of the opportunities available from going to a top school. The peer factor can really spur a student's development and push him harder and harder to succeed. I know that at Wharton the competition is cut throat but it really prepares you for the real world and it allows you to adjust to an environment in which you will have to survive despite great competition. Once you leave for the real world you're prepared for the competition and know how to become successful in that kind of environment. So it's not that the education is better, it's the environment that allows the students to have success in the future.

By Mom101 (Mom101) on Thursday, August 19, 2004 - 11:24 pm: Edit

There's no doubt that probably the biggest plus in a top college is the peer factor. I've heard so many bright kids say that they never felt as at home in a peer group as they did when they arrived at a top college. That was my experience. People joke about how extreme the students accepted at HY and P are. They got straight A's/1600 while undergoing chemotherapy in a third world country interning with Mother Theresa. But you do end up with a group of very bright, highly motivated, hard workers who like to be the best at an extremely wide range of things. And they are from all over the country and all over the world. There will not be a boring moment. It is truly the student body that makes a great school. The teachers, facilities and everything else is secondary in my mind.

By Dstark (Dstark) on Thursday, August 19, 2004 - 11:36 pm: Edit

I think you can learn a lot from people who are not necessarily the brightest, and who have different abilities.
I guess that is a minority opinion on this thread.
Another minority opinion, I don't think the name schools have a monopoly on intelligent kids or talented kids.

By Bern700 (Bern700) on Thursday, August 19, 2004 - 11:54 pm: Edit

Dstark you make a good point, a lot can be learned from those who are not necessarily the brightest.

I think that there are lots of intelligent and talented students at every university. However, I think that the better a school is the higher concentration of intelligent and talented kids will be. For example, there might be many intelligent and talented kids at the University of Arizona. However, the concentration of these kinds of students will be much higher at Harvard.

By Dstark (Dstark) on Friday, August 20, 2004 - 12:05 am: Edit

Bern 700, I like the way you present your arguments.
Do they stress writing at Wharton?

By Bern700 (Bern700) on Friday, August 20, 2004 - 12:09 am: Edit

well our curriculum is a mix between business classes and lib arts classes. The lib arts classes stress a lot of writing.

By Jerome12345 (Jerome12345) on Friday, August 20, 2004 - 12:11 am: Edit

" A 1999 study by MELLON Foundation researcher Stacy Berg Dale and PRINCETON economist Alan B. Krueger shows that students with the char-acter traits that bring success in life—persistence, charm, humor—are doing just as well financially 20 years after college graduation regardless of whether they went to a college with high average SATs"

MELLON foundations researcher Stacy Berg Dale
PRINCETON economist Alan B. Krueger


if they were at central washington university,
their colleges wouldnt be on there

By Mikemac (Mikemac) on Friday, August 20, 2004 - 12:28 am: Edit

I find it interesting how so many posts in this thread try to have it both ways, disputing or backing their favorite population study with anecdotes. As so many people were fond of saying in the dot-com boom, "they just don't get it". College earning studies are attempts to determine FOR A POPULATION whether going to an elite college makes a difference in future earnings. Anecdotes just don't matter.

Anecdotes describe individuals, the studies describe populations. Its like oil and water, folks.

You can always cite examples of people from no-name colleges or college dropouts (eg. Bill Gates) who have attained fantastic wealth. You can list people you worked with in wonderful positions with degrees from no-name schools. So what? These are anecdotal arguments, a rebuttal that no reputable academic magazine would consider publishing in its letters section as a rebuttal.

The studies are attempting to determine outcomes for a population. They don't intend to describe what must happen to each and every participant, they describe what happens on average to the population. I'm just surprised nobody has mentioned their uncle Fred who has a Harvard degree and ended up broke/alcoholic/in jail.

Can you succeed by going to a lesser school? Sure. Does a top school guarantee success in life? Nope. But this is all beside the point. The studies are examing whether on average going to a top school makes a difference (for whatever reason, and people have suggested numerous reasons why it might make a difference). Virtually all studies but the one in the first link found just such an effect.

And when you trumpet a study that purports to find that college selectivity bears no relation to future income, you ought to consider whether the study in fact found that result. Their own working papers show it did not. dstark, if you want to find the other studies, let me suggest a resource to you: its called and with a few minutes searching I bet you could find those studies (as if you really care).

By Dstark (Dstark) on Friday, August 20, 2004 - 12:39 am: Edit

Mikemac, Ok, I have found other studies.
Here is one link.
Other studies are mentioned in this study.

By Anthony (Anthony) on Friday, August 20, 2004 - 01:11 am: Edit

Dstark, most (all?) of those studies have taken into account demographic characteristics.

Here is a sampling of studies that have shown that there is a link between earnings and college quality:

Weisbrod, B., and Karpoff, P. (1968). Monetary returns to college education, students ability, and college quality. Review of Economics and Statistics, 50, 491-497.

Reed, R., and Miller, H. (1970). Some determinants of the variation in earnings for college men. Journal of Human Resources, 2, 537-587.

Solmon, L. (1973). The definition and impact of college quality. In L. Solmon and P. Taubman (Eds.), Does College Matter? New York: Academic Press.

Solmon, L. (1975). The definition of college quality and its impact on earnings. Explorations in Economic Research, 2, 537-588.

Wise, D. (1975). Academic achievement and job performance. American Economics Review, 65(3), 350-366.

Brewer, D., and Ehrenberg, R. (1996). Does it pay to attend an elite private college? Evidence from the senior class of 1980. Research in Labor Economics, 15, 239-272.

Brewer, D., Eide, E., and Ehrenberg, R. (1999). Does it pay to attend an elite private college? Cross cohort evidence on the effects of college type on earnings. Journal of Human Resources, 34(1), 104-123.

Eide, E., Brewer, D. J., and Ehrenberg, R. G. (1998). Does it pay to attend an elite private college? Evidence on the effects of undergraduate college quality on graduate school attendance. Economics of Education Review, 17(4), 371-376.

Thomas, S. (2000). Deferred costs and economic returns to college quality, major and academic performance: An analysis of recent graduates in Baccalaureate and Beyond. Research in Higher Education, 41(3), 281-313.

Thomas, S. (2003). Longer-term economic effects of college selectivity and control. Research in Higher Education, 44(3), 263-299.

Thomas, S., and Zhang, L. (2001). Post Baccalaureate Wage Growth within Four Years of Graduation: The Effects of College Major, Quality, and Performance. Paper presented at the 2002 Annual Meeting of Association for the Study of Higher Education, Richmond, VA.

Thomas, S., and Zhang, L. (2002). Beyond the Money: The Effects of College Major, Institutional Prestige, and Academic Performance on Job Satisfaction. Paper presented at 2002 Annual Meeting of Association for the Study of Higher Education, Sacramento, CA.

By Mom101 (Mom101) on Friday, August 20, 2004 - 01:18 am: Edit

Dstark, I didn't say kids at top colleges are the brightest. I said they were a combination of things including very bright. The issue is the combination: the drive, motivation and desire to work hard and be superchievers. Putting a concentration of these people together creates a dynamic that participants are unlikely to see before (a very few top high schools) or after.

By Dstark (Dstark) on Friday, August 20, 2004 - 01:24 am: Edit

Anthony, thanks, I will look at the more recent ones if they are available on the internet.

I like the study I mentioned. Check it out.
It seems a highly selective college is more important for women.

By Anthony (Anthony) on Friday, August 20, 2004 - 01:40 am: Edit

Dstark, it's a dead link:

"We're Sorry...
The page you have requested has either moved, or no longer exists."

By Dstark (Dstark) on Friday, August 20, 2004 - 01:53 am: Edit

Sorry Anthony. This is the link.
Hey at least I didn't give you a study of Austrailian schools.

By Mikemac (Mikemac) on Friday, August 20, 2004 - 06:12 pm: Edit

Dstarks study says "The key analytical issue was to determine the relative contribution of
the characteristics of the colleges attended by 1980 sophomores to their earnings four to five
years after graduation."

This is way too short an interval to be meaningful. Except for a brief interlude during that heady dot-com era, few 26-year olds are at the peak of their earning years (or even anywhere near it). A meaningful study looks at differences in earnings 15-20 years or more out of college. This study fails on that account; its not surprising they found few differences such a short period of time after college.

BTW dtark makes a very valid comment in an earlier post, saying the studies don't show cause and effect. There are all the classical problems in statistics such as confounded variables, correlation does not imply causation, etc. But even though retropspective surveys can't prove things the way a theorem is proven, they still can give us important information. Only the folks working for big tobacco still think epidemiology hasn't shown smoking causes cancer and other diseases. And studies that show attending elite schools is correlated with higher earnings doesn't prove that deciding to attend such a college will boost one's income, but it isn't inconsistent with the idea either.

By Dstark (Dstark) on Friday, August 20, 2004 - 06:20 pm: Edit

Mikemac, is is not my study. I just liked it.
Doesn't mean I agree with it.
The world has changed and there isn't any study that is guaranteed to be relevant to today's students.

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