A recent report from College Scorecard may not be the best news for the millions of students who are not attending or graduating from an Ivy League school.
The report, released last month didn’t unearth shocking information but reaffirmed that going to Harvard or Brown positions graduates for financial advantages.
“A typical student who attends a four-year institution at the top 10th percentile of the institutional earnings distribution has earnings of about $55,000 per year, while a typical student who attends a four-year institution at the bottom 10th percentile has annual earnings of about $30,000," the report authors wrote. "If this difference remained constant, cumulated over a 30 year working career, a typical student at a top school would earn over $300,000 more than a student at a bottom 10th percentile school, in present value. In fact, this is likely an underestimate since earnings growth tends to be higher for workers with higher earnings.”
A prestigious degree isn't everything when it comes to future earning power, according to Mark F. Smith, senior policy analyst of higher education in the education policy and practices department at the National Education Association.
“I would argue that many other factors are more determinative of that than the college or university one graduates from,” he says. “Engineers are usually going to earn more than historians, and lawyers will usually earn more than social workers. One reason students who graduate from Ivy League institutions earn more than those who graduate from state universities is that Ivy League students tend to come from wealthier families to begin with.”
The Ivies typically come with a heavier price tag too. College Tuition Compare.com data found the average cost for 2016 tuition and fees for an Ivy League college is $47,697 and slightly less for the 2014-2015 year at $46,632.
Quite the contrary to the Ivy League, tuition at the University of Florida, which ranked number 47 on the U.S. News and World Report list, is a measly $6,310 for yearly in-state tuition. Even more affordable, the cost of in-state tuition and fees for Cameron University in Oklahoma is $5,340, and U.S. New and World Report ranks number 69 Bismarck State College in North Dakota as being the most affordable public institution with in-state tuition and fees at $4,222 annually.
Developed in 2013, College Scorecard was launched by the U.S. Department of Education to provide students and families with decision-making information and insight into what the cumulative college process may involve as well as in-depth individualized college discernments. Given the $1.3 trillion in outstanding student loans, there's an an added emphasis on ROI -- with attention paid to how much college costs and what graduates earn coming out of certain institutions.
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Nicole Lopez, a University of Central Florida graduate, had no problem finding a lucrative position in her chosen field and is rising through the management ranks at the ripe age of 24. Lopez graduated with no student loans and was able to enter the job market debt-free.
“I studied event management in school and managed to land a great job with a prominent company in the Ft. Lauderdale area,” Lopez says. “I worked in my field during college but was also persistent when it came to finding the right job after graduation.”
When she graduated from UCF, she had to navigate through the end of one of the worst recessions on record, yet armed with her degree and doggedness, she found a job in her field.
Frank Bruni, New York Times contributor and author of Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be, found similar responses when he interviewed college graduates and admissions professionals from a variety of non-Ivy schools.
His book includes discussions with successful Millenials, like 26 year-old Jenna Leahy, who was categorically rejected by her first choice college (and second and third).
Leahy describes feeling worthless and depressed as rejections from schools like Georgetown, the University of Virginia and Emory piled up. But when she discovered Scripps Collegem she found love. Her tenure at Scripps produced a fearless adventurer who studied abroad and was chosen to work with the poor in Mexico alongside former president Jimmy Carter.
Although many students look back on their alma mater fondly, the NEA's Smith says he commiserates with the anxiety students endure when focusing on a dream school.
“I understand that students may feel somewhat powerless when applying to college, but one piece of advice is to keep one's mind open to more options,” he says. “While focusing on a ‘dream college’ is understandable, it may close off opportunities to find institutions that could turn out to be even more suited to one's growth.”
College should be a place and time to explore what one wants out of life and find out about oneself and the world, Smith adds. “Extracurricular activities in high school generally make one more appealing to institutions, but again the most important thing is to gather as much information as one can," he says. "The administrations scorecard may help in this regard, but I'm talking about far more subjective factors than will be included on that or similar checklists.”
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“While I don't want to belittle Ivy League and other top schools, there are scores of excellent institutions with excellent faculty, staff, and facilities that provide excellent education and preparation for careers for students,” Smith asserts.
“By no means are students at less prestigious institutions doomed to mediocrity,” Smith adds. “It is true that the top tier institutions are especially blessed with excellent facilities such as libraries and technology, as well as world class faculty. But it is really more important for students to examine the characteristics of an institution and their personal needs.”
Some students thrive at a large institution with thousands of students; others do better with a smaller and more intimate atmosphere, Smith remarks. “It is also critical to determine the academic focus of an institution," he says. "Some focus more on engineering and sciences, others on humanities and social sciences.”
Colin D. Riley, executive director of media relations at Boston University, agrees that students from a multitude of schools throughout the country are highly successful and find their passion and career path during their college experience.
Grads from Riley’s school ranked highly in a survey featured in the New York Times that polled thousands of recruiters from leading companies throughout 20 countries--Boston University was ranked 17th and seventh U.S. university overall. “When I talk to some of our students and graduates, I’m amazed at the wonderful things they are doing while in school and post graduation,” he adds.