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Attending An Elite College Won't Increase Earnings

Elite College Earnings

First Posted: 03/03/11 01:06 PM ET Updated: 05/25/11 07:35 PM ET

According to new study, students who apply to elite colleges but attend less competitive schools will earn just as much as those who the most competitive institutions -- regardless of whether or not they get in.

The findings(PDF) mark a return to an earlier study conducted by the authors, Princeton economist Alan Kreuger and Mathematica economist Stacy Dale, which looked at the 1995 earnings of a sample of students who entered college in 1976. The authors found that when controlling for conventional measures, such as high school grades, SAT scores and background, those who had graduate from elite colleges do, indeed, earn more than their counterparts. But after controlling for more elusive traits, like ambition and potential ability, by considering the average SAT scores of all schools students apply to, Krueger and Dale concluded that matriculation at a top college does not lead to a greater average income.

Now, the two have revisited their earlier research with the expectation that in 2011, an elite education would be worth more. But after examining the current financial state of the 1975 study's participants, as well as considering the average earnings of another group of students that enrolled in 1989, they reached the same conclusions.

Dale and Krueger gathered information from more than 19,000 students at 27 colleges and universities and measured the effect of personal and academic characteristics on later earning averages reported by the Social Security Administration, other government sources and survey participants.

According to Krueger, the schools to which a student applies to can be telling. "Even applying to a school, even if you get rejected, says a lot about you," Krueger told the New York Times. "My advice to students: don't believe that the only school worth attending is one that would not admit you. That you go to college is more important than where you go."

But for black, Latino and low-income students, as well as those whose parents do not have a bachelor's degree, attendance at a higher-ranking school positively influences later earnings. Krueger told U.S. News and World Report that this may be because for these students, networking at selective colleges is important.

The New York Times has a list of the colleges included in the report.

What do you think of these findings? Share your opinion in the comments section.

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Filed by Danielle Wiener-Bronner  |