Regarding the recently published Princeton University study that questions the value of elite college degrees, research and a bit of just plain common sense tells us the Berg Dale – Kreuger study is either very wrong or that the media is drawing the wrong conclusions from it.

Common sense says that when corporate recruiters seek out elite schools for on-campus interviews, it’s difficult for the motivated successful student at a lesser tier college to compete for that first full-time job.

Common sense says that a tight alumni network gives the student more opportunities for landing that first full-time job with a well-paying employer.

Common sense says that since graduate schools have a predisposition for undergrads from recognized high caliber schools, the equally meritorious students at less-recognized schools have a higher hurdle to overcome. It does not take a scholar to know that income correlates very highly with level of graduate degree.

Irrespective of the training students receive at the top-ranked colleges, the imprimatur of Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT, Stanford, and CalTech carries significantly into the market for the first job, for graduate school, and perhaps even for promotions thereafter. Ask recruiters who unabashedly state that they have discrepant thresholds for interviewing candidates based on their school. Ask Nicholas Lehmann, who said in a PBS Frontline interview – “a good school puts you in the way of more opportunity”.

Even the college drop-out has more access to funds for building his own business when his freshman year roommate is the child of a successful businessman or banker. Like it or not, the odds that that roommate falls into this category are markedly higher when attending a college that has been highly ranked for decades.

Professor Caroline Hoxby studied the financial returns to men who entered colleges of differing selectivities between 1960 and 1982. She concluded that the reward from attending the more selective college occurred in every age group, from those several decades past graduation, to those within one decade of graduation. The study accounted for differences in tuition, and her conclusion held true even for students who attended a less selective school on a “free ride”, i.e. a full scholarship. Hoxby’s study did not account for non-remunerative benefits of attending the college. Nor am I considering them here; it is clear that many students can find better opportunities for growth, diversity, enrichment, or academic course of study at a less selective school. The question for which many college-bound students need clarity is the financial return.

Many deplore a meritocracy based so greatly on grades and standardized test scores. And many regret what the pressures to gain admittance to top-ranked colleges do to teens. In the area of education, media reports too often confuse reality with what the reporter wishes reality to be. Publicizing a study that does not fully account for the prominence of these top-ranked colleges does a disservice to anyone seeking the truth.

It is wrong to cloud students’ futures with bad advice, and that can easily come from studies like Berg Dale and Kreuger’s.