245 Comments

If your ultimate goal is a Ph.D. in a STEM field, you can do what I did: Go to a big state university as an undergrad and then choose an elite, possibly private, school for graduate studies. Some advantages:

- Your undergrad degree will be inexpensive.

- Due to sheer volume, a big state school will have a critical mass of nerds for you to hang out with, even if the average student is a partying frat boy.

- If you're smart, you will stand out and get lots of personal attention from your undergrad profs.

- You will probably get to do research as an undergrad (I even got my own office!).

- Even at expensive schools, grad school will be free: you will be paid via teaching and research assistantships.

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You are 100% correct: For context, I'm a 76 year old, retired, relatively affluent Chemical Engineer, as are virtually my entire graduating class (retired AND affluent). Back in our day EMPLOYERS paid at least 50% (or more) of the cost of a Masters Degree, whether that Masters Degree was in our technical specialties or for an MBA (or both) In fact several of my classmates had their employer pay a significant portion of the cost of their LAW DEGREES. Once you've been on the job for a few years and people can see how well you can (or can't) function, NOBODY asks (or cares) where you went to school.

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Grad school will be *more free* at the school with the ten billion+ endowment than at the state school. The schools actually use that money for things!

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This is what I did, state school for technical undergrad, ivy for technical grad degree.

But I haven’t hired anyone from any ivy in the last 10 years, and I’ve hired ~300 in that period. Too much risk of allowing one rotten apple on the team, fomenting disruption if not rebellion.

Until very recently I’ve felt far too much existential risk to my business from being cancelled to post things I’d like to share on LinkedIn, like this one I’ve hewn to for ~5 years: when your school’s Development Officer calls to bring up the topic of a gift, the polite answer is “we can talk about that after the DEI administration and policies at the school have been removed.”

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Yes- I did this (CU Boulder to Caltech) and am now a full professor in the sciences at a large state school. Mentoring good undergraduates through research projects into grad school is a passion for many of us.

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Or just got to the University of Michigan, a state school with outstanding undergrad and graduated programs. Worked well for both my daughter and her husband.

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Exactly what my children did. I agree with you 100%

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Apr 25·edited Apr 25

Yeah one thing I really noticed as someone who went to a directional state is that the student body was so "going through the motions" that I was really able to monopolize the 1 on 1 time with the faculty.

Literally hundreds of hours spent with faculty at club events, bars, poker games, or just talking shop in their office, that I am sure wouldn't have been available at a fancy school.

Sure the faculty is a little less bright, but you could find a few who were wicked smaart and be friends with them.

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A bit of a loss skipping the partying frat boy part of life though!

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No need to skip it completely, and its availability is another selling point for Big State U. Even nerds like to party once in a while.

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Same is true in any field, not just STEM!

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Unfortunately there are plenty of state schools where undergrad research opportunities and face time with professors (both necessary to get into top PhD programs on scholarship/stipend) are limited. Of course, this is also true at Harvard and some of the ivies in certain fields. Undergrads don’t matter much at too many places.

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Research opportunities and face time with professors are limited everywhere. That's why it's important to stand out. You can't be yet another student who sits in the back of the lecture hall, does well on the tests, gets your A, and never talks to the prof. Sit up front; ask questions; visit the prof during office hours. And you don't do this to suck up but because you're passionate about the subject. (That's why you majored in it, right?)

Undergrads matter proportionally more at big state schools where they dominate the student population than at an elite research school where the number of grad students is comparable to the number of undergrads.

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Apr 24·edited Apr 24

First paragraph - fully agree. Being among the standouts is key, especially at programs where profs are focused on their research and grants and grad students, and see undergrads as trogdolytes best suited to interface with underpaid TAs.

If you are pretty certain about your major when applying, ask the department for some examples of research projects with active undergrad involvement or list of current research opportunities open to undergrads. Look at the course listings and see how big the upper level class sizes are and which profs are teaching which subjects, how big the undergrad intro courses are and see how many are taught by TAs and adjuncts.

Sometimes hard to convince one’s kids that college is about the opportunities offered and not what footwear and handbags the kids have and how nice the dorms are.

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Three thoughts on declining value of Ivy degrees:

1. In Yglesias' post on higher ed today, he shows a chart on grade inflation on Harvard. At the time when he/me/Nate Silver went to college, Harvard had an average GPA of 3.4. Now it has risen to 3.8. At the time 3.4 was considered inflated, but if you have a transcript with 30+ classes and students are earning grades from B- to A, it's possible to discriminate stronger and weaker students pretty clearly. You'll have students with 3.9s and students with 3.1s and these will correspond to real skill differences. 3.8 is a different story. At that point most grades are A's and it becomes genuinely hard to tell how smart people are. That weakens the degree.

2. As a professor, I am horrified by the Master's programs offered by many elite American universities. They are insanely expensive, of little career value, and unlike with the Ph.D. programs the profs/university don't care how well the students do because they are paying customers. See for example (https://www.wsj.com/articles/financially-hobbled-for-life-the-elite-masters-degrees-that-dont-pay-off-11625752773). As far as I'm concerned they are selling degrees to dupes. That can be lucrative but it weakens the value of all degrees from your institution and makes the university look like NFT salesmen.

3. The student loan forgiveness movement, which is much bigger than it used to be, hurts the reputation of universities because it showcases that the degrees sometimes aren't valuable enough to justify the cost. Many of the highest profile people griping about their students loans are victims of 2. above.

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The whole Masters-as-cash-cow thing is definitely disturbing. My previous employer canceled all funded masters programs because they thought the only point of a masters program was to skim money off the students. (We had used to have a fairly prestigious masters program that fed top PhD programs in the field, but now the university just has a so-so PhD program.)

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Get into the PhD program on scholarship and then quit after the Masters

Portion if you decide to go a different route.

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Since you mention this, in Canadian universities, getting a Ph.D. in life sciences is a two step process where you start with a Master's and either advance to the Ph.D. program or leave with a terminal Master's. You are paid a stipend the entire time. Unlike in the US, there's no stigma to the terminal Master's. A lot of students stop there on purpose and go to the private sector. It's not hard for Americans to go to grad school in Canada.

The one gripe I have is that I have noticed that even very weak students are ultimately given Master's because it's easier than flunking them out of the program and they aren't around that long anyway. Still, my M.Sc. students seem to be getting jobs pretty easily.

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Plus they're called "Masters" degrees, which I thought was racist...

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I think you are being facetious, but in case you are not, I’m not a conservative but find most linguistic wokeness from left right to be silly and frivolous. And there are woke linguistics on both sides. I have a master bedroom and have used a master key at work. That doesn’t make me racist.

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That’s why I support student loan forgiveness—people were lied to starting at the turn of the century when tuition skyrocketed while the value of degrees declined. Now a BA is a commodity as far as I’m concerned and you don’t overpay for a commodity and so we shouldn’t even have student loans for undergrad.

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I only support student loan forgiveness under 2 conditions:

1. We end the student loan program going forward. If colleges can't offer degrees at a price that students can afford to pay back, they shouldn't exist.

2. The colleges pay some of the cost of the forgiveness. Give em all a nice haircut on the endowments, and use that to pay a portion of the forgiveness.

3. Just make every existing loan 0% interest, or something low like 2%.

I don't know why this is not the GOP position.

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I agree with 1 for undergraduate. 2 should be tied to how many undergraduate students a college enrolls tuition free…why take away endowment when that is what is necessary for scholarships? 3 I think we should do that for medical school and nursing and programs like that but the 150th ranked law school can’t have that and the 10th ranked law school students can easily pay back hundreds of thousands in student loans.

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"I agree with 1 for undergraduate"

No, it should be for all programs. If the tuition you charge cannot be reasonably be paid back by the earnings you get through the degree, it's not worth it. If someone can't pay out of pocket, or the school or a private company feels they can't make a reasonable loan that will be paid back, it's not worth it.

"e. 2 should be tied to how many undergraduate students a college enrolls tuition free…why take away endowment when that is what is necessary for scholarships?"

Again, no. Endowments are scams. As someone who was a trustee for a family member that willed an endowed scholarship at the university, only a fraction of the investment earnings are actually used for the scholarship. The rest is used to grow the endowment. Endowments are glorified hedge funds.

" 3 I think we should do that for medical school and nursing and programs like that but the 150th ranked law school can’t have that and the 10th ranked law school students can easily pay back hundreds of thousands in student loans."

I was talking about this for existing loans. I want to entirely end the program, but for those who currently have loans, making them 0% interest will make them much easier to pay back.

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When I got my draft notice in 1970, I considered moving to Canada, but decided to stay the course. I got drafted, went to 'Nam, and it turned out to be the best decision I ever made. When I got back, I went to UNM on the GI bill. It never occured to me to apply anywhere else - I didn 't think I was that smart. I was by then older, much more mature, and well aware of life's realities. I got mostly A's in competition with a bunch of high school boys whom were much more interested than I in beer and sex. I got my Master's, also on the GI bill, and then went to UGA for a PhD in Microbiology - on a fellowship. I finally graduated with absolutely no debt. Discovered important stuff about myself (I was smarter than I thought) and entered a successful career in biotechnology, all because of the GI bill. Now I'm 75, and the VA takes excellent care of my health needs. So, it worked out very well for a punk from Alamogordo, NM with no clue. The GI bill can work wonders to pay for college..

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Apr 25·edited Apr 25

2) I know a lot of people sucked in by this. That "Masters of Public Health" from Harvard sounds fancy and ego gratifying. Unfortunately, it isn't really a replacement for the MD you couldn't swing and is really not a big step up from a BA/BS.

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Did you see that Harvard has basically an open enrollment masters degree?? I know someone that got an undergraduate degree from what would be considered a safety college through a similar program and I was like, if you just happened to be from Boston you would have a degree from Harvard.

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"Importantly, I expect the decline in perceptions of elite private colleges to extend to people tasked with making hiring decisions."

Why? This is the leap you actually have to explain here and this feels *very* hand waived. The hiring managers at fancy employers are elite university grads, they want their kids to go to elite universities, they're used to sending their recruiting teams to Harvard and Stanford (and Berkeley to be fair) every fall for a week of interviewing people. Are they going to dispatch those people to Rutgers and the University of Colorado instead because of what the median voter in Pennsylvania thinks?

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Nate presented the data in his article, particularly the graph showing the collapse in positive feelings towards higher education. You don't have to be a conservative, even moderates are bothered by what they hear and see out of the elite schools. Then combine this with that admissions to elite colleges is driven heavily by identity and less by competence. The public perception that elite higher education is faddish and dominated by radical left wing ideologues has taken hold and surely creeps into the minds of many people, including hiring managers. It's not overnight, as Nate himself said, but a slowly growing shift.

The stereotype of an Ivy student has shifted from academically-driven slighty nerdish kids eager to do what it takes to climb the professional ladders to angry woke social justice warriors who want to destroy the companies seeking to hire them (remember the furore at Coinbase a few years ago when the CEO told the employees to keep their politics away from the office?). Like all stereotypes, it's an exaggeration, but like all stereotypes, there's a truth at the core of it. And the Ivies are reaping the rewards for heavily targeting their admissions policies towards certain kinds of applicants, not just on identity grounds but also rewarding kids who demonstrate a clear progressive-left outlook in their applications and extracurricular activities, which would be why some of the campus environments have shifted from laissez-faire liberalism to a harsher, more ideological progressivism,

I do hire people for my team at a well known employer and I don't look at an Ivy League resume the same way any more, and I graduated from an Ivy. The schools still produce many great grads, but they're now on equal footing as great grads from great programs at great state schools. If anything, many of the kids who went to an Ivy 25 years ago are now at the state schools, frozen out of elite colleges due to either escalating tuition costs or social engineering. Something I see reflected in the college matriculations from the local prep schools today versus 25 years ago, there's now far more state schools on the college admissions lists, particularly southern state schools, and many of those kids are the ones who will end up tomorrow's hiring managers.

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I've also read an analysis that concludes that Ivy League schools are self-selecting for neuroticism and narcissism with their entrance essays. Students want to create a good story to tug on the heartstrings of the admissions panel, so they write some story about how they've survived abuse, racism, sexism, managed to get straight A's despite struggling with mental health, etc.

Basically, normal smart kids are less likely to get into Ivy League schools than relatively smart drama queens, activists, and people with mental disorders.

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Tuition costs at Yale or Harvard are actually well below state universities, unless your family is already in the 1% bracket. Only the very wealthy pay the full tuition that gets the banner headlines. The real reason to go to an Ivy League school is that these schools are insanely wealthy and offer middle class kids opportunities and resources they won’t get elsewhere. The majority of Ivy League students, even today, are basically high achieving athletic upper middle class types who have little time for protests.

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Retired relatively affluent STEM graduate here. 'IVY' engineering grauates have little (if any) advantage over the graduates of any good engineering school.

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Apr 23·edited Apr 23

But do Ivy graduates care about engineering? Other than Cornell none of them has *ever* had a particularly strong engineering reputation, but they’re still a ticket into the American elite through their hammer lock on elite finance, law, politics, media, business, etc. etc. I get that there has been a recent fad for Harvard grads getting jobs at Amazon or whatever, but that’s a trend that’s maybe a decade old (if that) in the history of institutions that have defined the American elite for a century or more.

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Apr 23·edited Apr 23

Not exactly an Ivy, but Stanford has a very strong engineering reputation, particularly in EE and computer engineering. Still generally far more important in grad school, but as a hiring manager I would, a priori, rate a solid BSEE from Stanford (if it pointed in the right areas of interest) equal to a MSEE from all but maybe the top fifteen or so state universities.

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While they may still have significant advantages for 'elite' finance or 'elite' law it pretty much stops there. Many lawyers in tiny law firms have become multi-millionaires specializing in medical malpractice. AT LEAST three of my classmates have retired with net-worths of EIGHT FIGURES by establishing VERY SMALL businesses of their own (6 employees or less). Almost all of the rest of my class are in the seven figure retirement category (and at least 2/3 of us were the first in our families to go to college).

If you are a STEM or LICENSED Healthcare graduate (MD, RN, RT , Pharmacist, etc), you will do well regardless of what school you go to.

“Elite” colleges have an advantage ONLY if you want to be a Fortune 500 CEO, a Senior Government Official, or a Supreme Court Justice.

AND if you'd be satisfied just being a 'plain old millionaire' I suggest you read Thomas Stanley's famous book "The Millionaire Next Door". In it you will find out that: They have made their money on their own, in a single generation.

EIGHTY PERCENT of America’s millionaires are first-generation rich, and two-thirds are SELF-EMPLOYED. More than half never received as much as $1 in inheritance.

Furthermore, Stanley’s book shows not much has changed in over 100 years:

In “The American Economy”, S. Lebergott reviews a study conducted in 1892 of the 4,047 American millionaires. He reports that 84 percent “were nouveau riche, having reached the top without the benefit of inherited wealth.”

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Sure but “Harvard graduates” is a tiny group of people in the context of the US population. They’re never going to be a meaningful percentage of any group that has more than a few dozen members (Supreme Court Justices, Senators, Sullivan & Cromwell partners). But run the numbers the other way and I’m willing to bet that a much higher percentage of 50 year old Harvard alumni are millionaires than 50 year old UMass grads. And sure, maybe you’re one of the guys from UMass that will be successful regardless, but probably not. Half of people are below average so you might as well give yourself the best odds.

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"And sure, maybe you’re one of the guys from UMass that will be successful regardless, but probably not."

If you're the one guy from UMass *who was smart enough to gain admission to Harvard*, you actually probably are.

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Regarding the millionaire next-door, I recall that 2/3 of them reached that point by investing in property. Because of the heavy federal debt we are running and the high interest rates that that implies, many of our young people cannot afford to get started on owning property.

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The typical millionaire next door owns a small factory, a small local chain of stores (laundromats, car washes, etc), or a small service company (plumbing, electrician, auto body shop, etc.).

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deletedMay 1·edited May 1
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You have no concept of statistical interpretation. To wit:

1. Using THE SAME LINK you provided, the MEDIAN net worth of a college graduate is roughly $500,000. You apparently are clueless in underatanding the differences between 'mean', 'median', 'modal', and the proper interpretation of the context of each.

2. You comment that "seven figures won’t even buy you a decent house in much of the country" is absurd: My house in the Mountain West was recently assesed at $350K: 3 bedrooms, 2 full bathrooms, attached 2-car garage, on a quiet upper-middle-class cul de sac with mountain views in a city of 400,000 people. Even my sister's slightly larger house in an upper middle class Northern NJ bedroom community is assesd at roughly $700K.

3. You appear to be very young and inexperienced so I'll cut you some slack. HOWEVER, if I'm wrong and you're NOT young and inexperienced, then based on your comment I would put your chances of EVER becoming a millionaire, at ANY age, asymptotically approaches zero.

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Depends on the field. I can 100% see STEM and tech employers being less likely to hire candidates they think will be distracted by politics rather than getting their work done.

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I agree with Matt here. Nate wants this to be true, but where's the evidence? Look at all the gender lunatics who still have jobs. Harvard and Yale grads can't think seriously, think truth is in the eye of the beholder, who hate America, think Western Civilization is racist and openly celebrate destroying capitalism in the name of liberation. the Ivies have ben churning out such grads for at least a decade or more, yet high-end law firms and major corporations are still hiring them. Where do you think corporate DEI commissars come from?

It's well and good to say that "somethin that can't continue... won't." But that doesn't mean it can't do a lot of damage enroute to its death. If you doubt this, go read Solzhenitsyn or Havel or Benda; they know something about failing ideologies taking down entire civilizations.

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I think the analysis is confusing because it's already mixing different types of schools which have different reputations. It's unlikely that the hit to Harvard's reputation is going to be larger than the hit to B.U. or UMass Amherst (e.g. if you are concerned about grade inflation and students not learning school reputation matters more, if you are concerned about student protests then its a general trend across schools). I think changes in the labor market are the most likely to impact the perception of people making hiring decisions (e.g. in the late 2010's CS bootcamp graduates did great but now that the market for software engineers has cooled new graduates have to compete with college graduates who have to compete with people with experience). On the other hand, there are lots of state schools that have been competitive with Ivy League schools for certain types of jobs (e.g. the more technical fields).

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I found Nate's article (and some of the responses to it) depressing, because he's reduced the whole business of going to university to a matter of prestige (or 'esteem', if you like). The word 'elite' is tossed around a lot these days, but it's a confusing idea, because it often conflates the idea of prestige and snobbery with the idea that someone or some institution is very good at something. Are 'elite' institutions elite because they attract the wealthy and produce the powerful, or because they're good at research and education? The piece implies that, in the case of 'private elite colleges', it's mostly the former. And I suspect that for many people who apply to those places, it's the prestige and all that comes with it - a fancier CV, status, connections, etc. - that they want, the education being a bonus. But it's possible for a place to be highly selective, sort of prestigious, and yet very good at giving people an education (I'll leave aside the research function).

I went to a small, selective liberal arts college and then two (excellent) state institutions for my MA and PhD. I had tenured posts in three different state universities in the UK and Canada, and taught as a visiting prof at an excellent American state university (Rutgers) and at a German one. I was very proud of the education we offered students at all the places I taught and I agree with Nate that great state education is one of the crowning achievements of a democratic society (not just America, though). But I'll be honest: of the eight universities/colleges I attended or taught at, the quality of education and the level of intellectual engagement was far and away the best at my liberal arts college. My courses were demanding, my teachers terrific, the other students interesting, and so on (and I know from reports of people who teach there today that it's still terrific). If someone were offered a place there - and could afford it - I'd tell them to take it in a second. I don't know what it added to my CV, but I learned an awful lot there (not just about subjects, but also about how to be a good teacher). Sometimes a place is 'elite' in both senses.

So I don't think that people's attitudes have changed because they've discovered the emperor has no clothes. Nor do I think it's because they're pissed off about political activism on campus. When I was a high school student Harvard, Columbia, and a host of other schools were occupied by anti-war protestors and there was plenty of talk about students being spoiled, out of touch, etc. (of course, soon after the protests, majority opinion swung heavily behind the students' point of view), yet there was no comparable decline in esteem. What has changed is a concerted effort to redefine the 'elite' in America in purely cultural terms: as people who go to Ivy League schools, drink lattes, watch NPR, and so forth. The Right has taken aim at universities and the professions, at the 'Coasts', as if the problem in America were snobs, not the wealthy and the powerful. And the campaign has worked a treat. People don't just value universities less - they value education as a whole less. I don't think this is a good thing (yes, yes, I have a lot of skin in this game, but I still think education is important for a well-functioning, happy society).

Final bit of snark: Nate is usually admirably honest about his own priors and background, but he is being very disingenuous about the University of Chicago. When I applied there in 1978 it was universally regarded as a selective, elite institution - it hasn't been anything but that since the Second World War. The fact that Nate carves out an exception for it is telling, because admitting he got a great education at an 'elite' institution would make the case he wants to make that much harder. Of course, people from the University of Chicago are always complaining that everywhere else is going to hell in a handbasket - remember Allen Bloom? - but that's just an inter-elite thing.

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I got into the same school, U. of Chicago, in 2003, and without putting myself down I'd be shocked if I would have gotten in there in 2013 or 2023. It has become drastically more selective (like a 10% admit rate vs. 40% back then) as people have noticed what used to be a huge gap between admission rate and quality and prestige of that school. So I would defend Nate that when he got in there, it was a much easier school to get admitted to and more widely considered a Top 10-25 school vs. a Top 10 school like today.

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Yes, but every place was easier to get into the past (in the late 1970s the rate was 31% at Stanford, and Harvard sat in the 20% range). And, as you say, 'the quality and prestige' of the school was generally known. My point is that the U of C is not an outlier, although many University of Chicago faculty and alumni like to pretend it is. Nate wants us to believe that the campaign against 'elite' institutions is justified, but not for Chicago - I think he is kidding himself.

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And just btw, I got into Chicago in 1978 (the other Universities I applied to were Harvard and Yale, and no one thought that was an odd combination) and I was quite keen to go, but a high school teacher of mine who had gone there said to me: 'don't go to Chicago - you're a gregarious person'! And I was a pretty weird nerd myself!

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Both of my parents were University of Chicago graduates, and they loved that place - its culture of inquiry and intellect specifically - like Catholics love the Church. In 1981 Harvard offered me a spot, and I said "Yes," but it was a mistake. I sold out. I belonged at Chicago, and I still regret my error.

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I grew up in the Chicago suburbs and took a visit to U of C in 1982. That same month, some men's magazine published a list of the Top 200 party schools in the US. U of Chicago came in last, behind West Point, Brigham Young, and Colorado School of Mines. My dumb 18 year old mind let that influence my decision.

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"The Right has taken aim at universities and the professions" - victim-blaming of the highest order.

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Apr 25·edited Apr 26

If you just want an actual education you can get a much better one on the internet and with a few textbooks than you can at a school. Much cheaper too. But most employers still want a piece of paper in addition to an education.

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Maybe maybe not. Some of us need the good old competition of seeing other students putting in the time, commuting rather than living in the dorms, and generally hustling through college like it’s a job. I know that helped me quite a bit.

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For some fields there is little advantage to going to the private schools over the flagship state universities - Engineering for example. If you are going to try for academic positions, the networking at the private universities can be a substantial boost, but for those headed into industry, the value proposition is much more tenuous. My youngest daughter and my son both went to the University of Washington where they did their BS and MS. My son did Running Start so that he only had to pay for approximately 2 years worth of his undergraduate education. They commuted to save housing costs. My daughter is a structural engineer and my son is a technical PM. My daughter has no student debt and my son will have his paid off in a year.

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Wow, Mr. Michener, what a coincidence to see you here! I went to the UW with your daughter, we were both in the Robinson program.

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Good to meet up with you. If she had not done early admission to the UW via the Robinson program, she would have done Running Start like her brother did. He did Business MIS and then his Masters in MIS - Data Security. They both had their masters by the time they were 21, which I suspect is your case as well.

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This is the way.

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I think it depends on city as well. In Houston, if you have a degree from UT, A&M, UH, or one of the other big state schools, hiring managers will normally give you preference over degrees from elsewhere.

When I was working for Deloitte, one of the hiring managers mentioned they toss out the rare applications from Ivy League grads for anything but specialized senior management and senior consultant positions because they're rightfully afraid that the Ivy League grad is just going to work there for six months drawing a paycheck while they mine their contact network to find a better position somewhere else.

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I think this advice needs more nuance for quality.

1. There's the creme de la creme of schools. People used to say HYPS. I have trouble believing it's ever going to be a bad idea to attend them, even if for peer effects alone. If you don't know what you want to do, you'll probably end up in the corporate world and you'll have peers that are going places and that can give you ideas about how to succeed.

2. There's the lower-ranked Ivies and top-tier of other private schools, like Chicago. It might be the case that they're converging more in quality towards state flagships. I can buy that. This is at least the category that's worth debating over.

3. Then you have all other private schools, other than certain schools with a well-defined and nonstandard mission (e.g. Christian, historically black, fine arts, etc.) Even when I was applying to colleges ~20 years ago, I categorized plain vanilla private colleges as "schools with no reason to exist." They have even less reason to exist now. They are a scam and you should not go to them unless you're getting a very large scholarship, and maybe not even then. Many of them will cease to exist with the enrollment cliff, and it always sucks having a degree from a school that no longer exists (as my father, who went through life with this problem, would tell you).

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"I have trouble believing it's ever going to be a bad idea to attend them, even if for peer effects alone."

Most high-profile schools will "educate" your kids in disastrous systems of unreality. Systems that may well convince them you are a bigot, they are the opposite sex, America is racist, capitalism is evil, and Jews are fair game. But yeah, I guess if you're OK with all of that, going there wouldn't be a bad idea.

A university education isn't about becoming a corporate cog to make lots of money. It's about becoming a fully functional, thinking person. A university like HYPS et al (or any university that says "truth doesn't exist") can not possibly put you on that road.

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I’m a conservative, and you have a valid point insofar as there has been a failure to transmit values across generations that really accelerated in the past 40 years. There’s a sharp break between Gen X and those that came later. So parents absolutely need to think about what happened and what all the parents around them have been doing wrong. I don’t have all the answers but “The Collapse of Parenting” by Sax offers a good hypothesis.

But to suggest this means you need to stay home from Harvard is absolutely barking up the wrong tree. For one, most of the damage is done in high school and middle school. But that doesn’t mean college is irrelevant. There are tradeoffs worth thinking about. It’s going to be a lot easier to help your kid get plugged into a church community at an SEC school than in the northeast or the west coast.

But two, if your kid is getting into Harvard as a non-legacy white or Asian with non-celebrity, non-megadonor parents, then he’s in something like the top 0.01% of US undergrads. If he didn’t reject your value system in high school then he should have the intelligence and maturity to know who he is and be able to defend his values when they come into contact with elites.

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Agreed. Kids that can make it into Harvard will likely make it no matter where they go to school. So make your kid Harvard material, and then refuse the admission letter and go to Ozarks or Hillsdale or Steubenville instead.

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Hillsdale maybe, especially as that school is on an upward trajectory, but the others are bad advice for a kid that bright. It's settling for mediocrity. The kid will drastically outclass his peers. He won't be challenged. Everything will be dumbed down. It's an awful waste for a very bright kid to never meet his intellectual match until, maybe, once he's out in the world.

He can still find success, but there will be opportunities he misses out on as a result. Including the opportunity to influence elite culture and the elite world for the better.

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That's crazy. Hillsdale grads end up teaching in Hillsdale schools or working in specifically conservative coded jobs, like think tanks or congressional staffing. If you just want an ordinary job, Hillsdale is not a good idea.

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As someone who went through the recruitment process, has family at a lot of these christian schools, and was offered lots of money to go to hillsdale, it is not worth the money. I went to a large state school and the students in my honors program all ended up with better-paying, more impactful, more prestigious trajectories than my peers of similar (if not much higher!) intelligence who went to Hillsdale. But if you're a card-carrying conservative who wants to be raised in an echo chamber (or around similarly situated peers, in the more charitable view), it's probably a good spot. For a high-achieving student who doesn't want to work in a specifically conservative or Christian role, it is not worth the money.

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They're definitely overrepresented in those roles, but they cite plenty of corporate hires on their career page. I've been told by many people that, contrary to my initial expectations, corporations still don't discriminate in hiring against students from conservative Christian colleges. They like a lot of the grads.

The school is about as selective as U Michigan. Compared to them, maybe you're handicapping your career a little bit with Hillsdale, if only in that Michigan probably has a stronger career office today, more on-campus recruiting, a larger alumni network. Of course, a lot of kids at a lot of schools don't take enough advantage of those resources.

You're weighing that (and the lower sticker price) against the potential "formation" benefits of Hillsdale, if you're a Christian conservative who believes in those things. Also, I imagine it's a better place to meet a spouse.

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Birmingham Southern

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Unless you are in the narrow band of family income and cost of living such that going to an elite school requires you take out huge debt, this is poor advice. Going to the most prestigious school possible signals to employers that you are smart and hardworking (which is how you got into the prestigious school). Prestigious schools still have by far the best recruiting networks and the best reputations among hirers. If you have evidence to the contrary, which would be a massive massive deal, you should share it

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If your purpose of going to college is making lots of money, you're correct. Go to the highest profile school you can afford and take advantage of their job placement to maximize your earning potential.

However, if your purpose is to learn how to think (which is actually the definition of education) the Ivies are a very bad place to do that. They exist for elite credentialing not for education. In fact, as Huxley recognized 100 years ago, credentialed but largely unthinking elites are very useful to higher elites.

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For context, retired relatively affluent STEM graduate here. 'IVY' engineering grauates have little (if any) advantage over the graduates of any good engineering school. AT LEAST three of my classmates have retired with net-worths of EIGHT FIGURES by establishing VERY SMALL businesses of their own (6 employees or less). Almost all of the rest of my class are in the seven figure retirement category (and at least 2/3 of us were the first in our families to go to college).

If you are a STEM or LICENSED Healthcare graduate (MD, RN, RT , Pharmacist, etc), you will do well regardless of what school you go to.

“Elite” colleges have an advantage ONLY if you want to be a Fortune 500 CEO, a Senior Government Official, or a Supreme Court Justice.

AND if you'd be satisfied just being a 'plain old millionaire' I suggest you read Thomas Stanley's famous book "The Millionaire Next Door". In it you will find out that: They have made their money on their own, in a single generation. EIGHTY PERCENT of America’s millionaires are first-generation rich, and two-thirds are SELF-EMPLOYED. More than half never received as much as $1 in inheritance.

Furthermore, Stanley’s book shows not much has changed in over 100 years:

In “The American Economy”, S. Lebergott reviews a study conducted in 1892 of the 4,047 American millionaires. He reports that 84 percent “were nouveau riche, having reached the top without the benefit of inherited wealth.”

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Best nepotism networks. Ex: All the ivy league morons working as top level advisers in the U.S. government despite careers full of failure.

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I write this as somebody that went to community college and then won a couple of “golden tickets,” leveraged those tickets to a life beyond expectation, has had significant professional contact with elite graduates, generally thinks very poorly of many such graduates and their values/life choices/aesthetic taste, and had contempt for their godless Protestant culture and peculiar manners when in school, and has even more contempt now.

No. Go to those schools, just make sure to *generally* not adopt their culture and values. Treat it as a prolonged adventure among an Amazonian tribe which has had little contact with the outside world. Keep/develop your sense of self and integrity. And do not support them after you leave unless they align with *your* values.

There is a lot of value in being a normal, well adjusted person who also happens to have a credential from these schools. The credential is a very tasty chocolate covered cherry.

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What does "godless Protestant culture" mean? Aren't protestants by definition believers in the Christian god?

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I said “culture” for a reason — their ethics and values are radically Protestant. There is lots of good writing in this, but an excellent podcast (Rest is History) did an entertaining series on Martin Luther I would recommend. You can draw your own conclusions.

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Just went to a book signing in S.F. from Rob Henderson who did exactly this. He said the same thing.

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That's why we call them the Demoralize DIEvy League. "Elite" campuses are no different than Red Guard struggle sessions: https://yuribezmenov.substack.com/p/struggle-session-parody-3bodyproblem-harvard

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Stupidest shit I've ever heard. This gay ass exaggeration for victimhood status is exasperating

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You have said the actual truth

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Obviously not as serious, but the parallels to the Red Guards are striking and I have been saying that for over 5 years.

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"That's why we call them the Demoralize DIEvy League".

LOVE IT! You've got a way with words Yuri.

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You should ignore this advice if you aim to get a PhD. Not only does a BA from an elite institution help a lot, but the access to professors who are leaders in the field helps even more. If you can get a heavy hitter to bat for you, the world is your oyster.

You should also ignore this advice if you ever plan to work abroad. People outside the states don't usually know anything about the quality of states schools apart from Cal and UCLA. In places like France, where your undergraduate institution is extremely important, they will absolutely treat you differently if you have a fancy sounding institution on your resume.

I'm not so convinced that the signaling advantage won't persist for the Ivy league. Hiring is difficult and people want shortcuts. My guess is that if you've made it through the awful gauntlet that is Ivy league admissions, hiring managers will continue to see that as a signal of quality.

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If you want to get a PhD you should get to know some known names in your field. But you can do that at several dozen institutions, including most of the big state schools, and sometimes a few other random universities in that field that you wouldn’t expect based on general prestige.

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I don’t think Silver would disagree with your first two points at all. But these don’t apply to even 3% of those going to college.

Re: your 3rd point, I agree with you that the signaling value will persist for a while, but… it is much harder to know how much the signaling value will be diminished because of the damage of the last few years. Surely even you cannot deny that the signal value has been reduced.

Further, for those that can get in to these Ivies who instead go to a school with a good rep but far less wokeness (e.g. U Chicago), they can have their cake and eat it too. And to me there’s little doubt that after the past 8 months, some fraction of the best employers will look past the damaged branded conformists and look for people who, like Steve Jobs’ famous add of 25+ years ago now said “Think Different”

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I found out that in Europe the University of Michigan was better known than some of the Ivy schools like Cornell, Dartmouth, Penn.

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This presupposes that the leaders in their fields are necessarily at the culturally-elite institutions. I am sure for some fields this is true, but it is only some.

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For what it's worth I think an ivy-caliber student who wants to go to law school is basically by FAR the most suited for an undergraduate state school.

This is because they will likely graduate with honors or even highest honors from state school if they are really an ivy-caliber student. And then they will also score extremely high on LSAT.

I think this is actually one of the highest +EV cases for state school undergraduate actually.. Anyone who is top 2-3% at a state school and then top 1% LSAT will get the chance to ivy signal with the law school sheepskin. And law school is basically a hard reset for employment so you wash the state school away when employers are considering you as a law student.

The Twitter account you linked to is going based on vibes and maybe anti-elite bias. Think the numbers would back up what I am saying 100%. Also if any such applicant is really concerned about disadvantaging themselves, just write SAT score on resume. Those with any kind of penetrating mind will understand the talent they are dealing with immediately and will disregard the state school aspect of identity.

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I'm the CEO of a 250-person tech company in NYC who went to an top liberal arts college and Ivy League graduate school. All things being equal, when I am confronted with a hiring choice b/w an *entry-level candidate* who has a 4.0 from SUNY-Binghamton or CCNY vs a 4.0 from Penn or Brown, I choose the Binghamton/CCNY kid EVERY TIME.

There's a multitude of reasons for this - the three most prominent are:

(1) The grades reflect something. Getting a 4.0 at Binghamton/CCNY is HARDER than getting a 4.0 at Penn. It took me a long time to realize this but when I see resumes, I NEVER see a resume below 3.7ish from the Ivies (even in Engineering).

(2) The public school admission does not reflect athletic or legacy bias. One of the challenges in evaluating the Ivy League kid is that it's unclear how they got there.

(3) The public school admission (the campus at which they were admitted) means A LOT. There is a noticeable difference b/w SUNY-Binghamton students (for example) and SUNY-Oswego students.

The rest of Nate's argument, I'm not so sure about. In my experience, each category of employee is equally likely to be politically active and once someone is later in their career, their career achievements do a good job of filtering out.

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Retired Chemical Engineer here (Class of 1973). My have things changed!

You write: "... I NEVER see a resume below 3.7ish from the Ivies (even in Engineering)...".

In my graduating class of roughly 300, we had exactly ONE person with a 4.0 cum and a 3.0 cum would put you in the top 40%.

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Yeah. When I was in grad school in chem E at Wisconsin in the 1980"s there was an undergrad student who got a 4.0 in chem E classes, the first since the 1950's, and he was Warren Stewart, one of the ChE profs.

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As 2 Ivy parents whose two kids chose high quality in-state unis, we are here for all of this. Whereas I couldn’t sign my student loan papers quickly enough, our kids did not understand why they would take on debt to go to college if they didn’t have to. I realize that my parents’ desire for me to go to an Ivy was well intentioned, but it was also a bit of an ego trip. Your ideas would move things in a positive direction.

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"University of Chicago... is now considered an elite private school but was much less of one when I first attended in 1996"

Not sure where that came from, first nuclear reactor at University of Chicago by Enrico Fermi. Mathematics dept under Marshall Stone placed US mathematics on the world map. Milton Friedman and Chicago School of Economics.

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Oddly it stands out less now than it did when it was more eccentric, sadly. It is still the best school in the country, go... whatever our sports team is called!

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Postmodernism and gender identity and antiemetic lunacy and safe spaces are hardly the exclusive domain of "elite" schools. Most public universities are just as steeped in unreality as Harvard and Yale and Columbia. The University of California (where I live) is somewhat cheap (for residents) but the so-called education is abysmal. Most public universities will be that way as the US Dept of Education mandates many of their policies. Even private schools that take federal student loans must comply with the DOE commissars.

However, there are private schools that are rising to the occasion though. (Capitalism is so good at that.) Raising private capital for grants and loans. Providing lower cost options for a good education. U of Chicago is good. The new U of Austin is doing amazing stuff (where else can you take a course on classical Greek literature taught in the classical Greek language, in Greece?) Thomas Aquinas University. Ozarks (and they're free if you can get in.) Hillsdale College is rapidly becoming the homeschool-Harvard.

There are lots of good options to get a great classical education that isn't steeped on postmodernist, anticolonialist, racist propaganda. But public universities are usually not the right place to find it. If you're just looking for job skills, sure, go to a state school and be done with it. But if you want to become an educated person, you'll need to look harder.

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“Postmodernism and gender identity and antiemetic lunacy…”

What a gem of an autocorrect misfire. I do find that I need an antiemetic after reading about the spoiled postmodernist anti-Semitic brats at Columbia, Harvard and their peers.

And your point about the woke mind virus not being limited to so-called “elite” schools is very well taken and underappreciated. At the very mediocre large urban public university near me, the feral anti-Semitic pro-Hamas contingent of students has been gathering for destructive demonstrations every weekend for months, just as they did during the summer of 2020. They’re easy to dismiss given that they’re know-nothings who have no business being in higher education to begin with, but they’re aping the students at the elite schools who actually have some intelligence (although apparently not nearly enough to have any inkling of how comprehensively they’ve been propagandized) and are a lot harder to dismiss given that they’ll be directing the final collapse of this country’s failing institutions in a few short years.

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Can you actually take classes at University of Austin yet? Their initial announcement only had two faculty, and I haven’t heard more about them since.

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As far as I know. I can't find the reference, but my comment about taking an ancient Greek class taught in ancient Greek in Greece I'm fairly sure was a UAustin thing. I saw a video of the class.

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The UC system in California is not the equivalent of a state level school … the CSUs are … and are not “steeped in the unreality” of the UCs.

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My daughter currently attends a CA community college (the step below "state schools"). While the extreme Leftists may not be as visible, I can assure you that postmodernist, relativist, oppressor/oppressed, who/whom ideology is totally endemic there as well.

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"Most public universities are just as steeped in unreality as Harvard and Yale and Columbia."

While it's true that flagship state schools have their own contingents of crazy leftists, the sheer size of the institutions makes it pretty easy to avoid having to deal with them if you don't want to, and the dominance of sports culture makes it very, very unlikely that the school's reputation will ever get permanently associated with that particular brand of leftism.

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Apr 23·edited Apr 23

While there is a huge difference in sticker price for in state public v private elite universities, that difference is much smaller for out of state elite public v elite private universities—compare Michigan to Harvard, especially adjusted for cost of living —which reflects amenities students value.

For non-rich students, it is cheaper to attend Harvard than Michigan, due to financial aid (Harvard like most very elite schools provide only grant aid, no loans).

If you’re right about employers, I would expect to see signaling devices develop at elite schools to alter the employer perceptions. If my Columbia resume has founder of “Students for Tolerance of Political Differences Club”, I can probably benefit from the positive aspects of Columbia’s reputation and avoid the negative.

It’s also worth noting that perhaps the most highly regarded public university (Berkeley) almost certainly fares worse on the “Wokeness” concern of employers than pretty much any Ivy.

None of this means you’re overall claim is wrong, but I think it comes down to the quality of the wage premium evidence v the individual cost difference (which can be negative for people with household incomes well above the median).

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I read a lot of applications from people who went to elite colleges. It's very easy to tell when someone is politically extreme in either direction. Usually their college activities and employment history will give it away. If not, the way they're dressed, pronoun usage, and the interview make it obvious. Going to a state university instead of Yale is not going to reassure a potential employer if the applicant has blue hair and uses 'Latinx'.

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Yeah going to Michigan is great if you live in Michigan. I grew up in Ohio and had to scratch my head at the couple of people who went to Michigan instead of... Miami of Ohio, I guess? Or someplace where they could have gotten great in-state packages if they were gonna do the state school.

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