February 21, 2014

"I too agonized about getting into a good college... But no one told me at the age of 15 that I’d better focus all my energies on being absolutely perfect."

Writes Megan McArdle (who's got a new book on the importance of the freedom to fail). She says "we have become crazy on the subject of college":
Now, more than ever, we view a college degree as an absolute prerequisite for a minimally decent life. And if we’re in the upper middle class, it has to be a degree from an elite school. Kids who a generation or two ago would have gone to a local college, or the state university, are now applying to Harvard University. And since the number of slots at those elite colleges has barely budged, parents are essentially trying to push an ever-larger number of kids through a medium-sized funnel.
Back in the good old days, the finer families had an easier time putting their kids on the fast route to success. Now, with all these upstart proles horning in, it's time to tell everyone to calm down, back off, and quit trying so damned hard.

She doesn't mean to be saying that, but that's what I'm seeing between the lines. It seems to me that it's up to the individual to decide how competitive you want to be and what kind of competition you want to enter. That's going to change the mix of who ends up at Harvard and all the lesser institutions lined up underneath it. When it's packed with hyper-earnest, Little Miss Perfects, what will be the great benefit of having a friendship network of other people who went to Harvard?

And it's simply not true that "Now, more than ever, we view a college degree as an absolute prerequisite for a minimally decent life." Where I live, you can be governor without a college degree — governor and a hot prospect for next President of the United States. And Google gives me over 57 million hits on the search successful people who didn't finish college.

But McArdle probably knows her audience. They are those "we’re in the upper middle class, it has to be a degree from an elite school" people who look at their kid and think: Egad, what an insufferable drudge sprang forth from my loins and yet I must tiger-mom forward and ensure that the prize is mine hers.

57 comments:

damikesc said...

That's why I'm advising my young kids to either go military or learn a trade. College degrees are more of an albatross nowadays than a benefit (graduating with effectively a mortgage before you get a job is horrendous)

"Elite" colleges charge you way too much with way too little value included.

Why Republicans don't drag university Presidents to demand answers as to why college tuition has skyrocketed so much is lost on me.

RecChief said...

well, as a population, we have been told for more than 20 years that you must have a college education to get ahead. A bachelor's degree became the substitute for the IQ tests that companies can no longer administer. Meanwhile, I have friends in the trades: plumbers, electricians, residential HVAC technicians, all non union. And they all do very well, six figure incomes in most cases. The determining factor seems to be how hard they want to work.

damikesc said...

As Mike Rowe said, they whole "work smarter, not harder" bullshit that academia sprayed over the educational system for years to indoctrinate kids was horrendous for the country.

I tell my kids that a competent welder will have more job security and more pay than almost any job a college degree can provide.

Ralph Hyatt said...

My wife's brother started out as an HVAC technician in a small town, now works in that field traveling all over U.S. and Canada part salesman part senior technician overseeing installation of HVAC equipment, including remote monitors and controls, and does extremely well financially.

Meanwhile, I run into people with Masters in Performing Arts who are working as waiters.

I feel bad for these kids. They are being ripped off and are paying for the privilege of being mal-educated.

RecChief said...

I've advised my kids to learn a trade and make some money before deciding on when or whether to attend college. Lord knows that with the inflation in tuition, what we have put away for their educations won't cover more than a year. And it would be child abuse of me to advise they go into that much debt so early in life.

Ralph Hyatt said...

"Now, more than ever, we view a college degree as an absolute prerequisite for a minimally decent life. And if we’re in the upper middle class, it has to be a degree from an elite school."

minimally decent life and upper middle class translates to "join the ruling class."

That's why so many kids with political science and journalism degrees are willing to work as unpaid interns. Their trying to grasp the next rung on the ladder to power.

furious_a said...

Now, with all these upstart proles horning in, it's time to tell everyone to calm down, back off, and quit trying so damned hard.

Funny, I thought it was to free up more Affirmative Action slots. Which is why the University of California capped enrollments for both whites and Asians.

MayBee said...

Parents are going crazy about college admissions, though. They take multi-week, multi-state tours of colleges the kids might want to apply to. They pay for their kids to flood the admissions offices with applications. They really seem to think their kids are going to fail if they don't get into been the same university they (the parents) went to. They get themselves and their kids in vast amounts of debt for a private or out of state school when a state university would provide an excellent opportunity.

Part of it comes from my generation, which definitely wants to provide our kids a lifestyle we only dreamed of. Part of it comes from our politics all the time environment, where our president and Supreme Court justices are given consideration because they have elite school educations. We see it as the marker for intelligence, although it is not

Ralph Hyatt said...

My wife's brother ... does extremely well financially.

Raised three kids who graduated from college (with useful degrees that got them jobs in non-elite schools with no debt.)

But they aren't in the ruling class, so I guess he and they don't have a minimally decent life.

The thing is McArdle is at least partly correct. Some people have become absolutely crazy about college. And a lot of colleges are exploiting kids because of it.

Jonathan Card said...

I'm not sure I agree with you, Professor. I think a goal of high-school should be, "graduates should be able to hold decent lower- to middle-class" jobs, but it isn't. The world changed and curricula didn't. If anything, they got worse so that more kids could have good enough grades to go to college. The truism that, "people that go to college earn more," (what else would you expect? Why else would you spend so much to go?) has prompted us to try to send so many to college that a lot of education isn't much good. What McArdle is saying implicitly is also that high-school needs to be better, so college is unnecessary for most people, not as a means of preserving class, but as a way of removing obstacles to having an adult life.

Perhaps I'm reading my own thoughts onto hers, but that's what I think.

Xmas said...
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Peter said...

Depending on what you want to do, elite colleges- the few that truly are- continue to be a worthwhile brandname to put on one's resume.

Why? Well, it's surely not the superior education they offer, because it's not superior. It's the use of the brandname as a signifier- you must have been bright enough to get in.

IF employers were allowed to test for competencies without getting hit with disparate-impact lawsuits, much of this value would evaporate. Indeed, if third-party competency testing becomes an alternative the value may evaporate anyway.

But for now, it counts. Does anyone from third-tier law schools ever get an offer from a first-rate law firm?

Assuming that's what you want to do, of course. Even though there's much truth in Tyler Cowen's "Average is over," in opening a small business, assuming you have some real knowledge of what the business is offering and at least a few clues about cash flow and profitability and how much capital you'll need to avoid going broke because you'd burned through your funds too soon.

virgil xenophon said...

Ralph Hyatt @8:29 hits it square in the nuts. It's all about networking while in the "right" college in order to be asked to join the Nomenklatura on graduation.

Robert Cook said...

"minimally decent life and upper middle class translates to 'join the ruling class.'"

This seems a practical goal to want to achieve, as people are coming to see there will be no "middle" class in the very near future, (it's almost moribund today).

There will be the ruling class...and all the rest, who will be serfs.

Xmas said...

I suggest people read the full article.

The parts Ann selected reverse the purpose of the article. McArdle is pointing out that in the quest to push kids through the elite college funnel we force them to take fewer risks. The girl that talks to McArdle emphasizes that she's an International Baccalaureate who cannot afford to take a class where she won't get an 'A'.

Is that what we want for our future elites, children who avoid failure at all costs? Learning to fail and trying things that you may not be good at is something everyone should learn. If they can't learn that as a child, when can they learn it? If they grow up as a child that's been steered by parents and schoolteacher around any potential failures, how are they going to react the first time they fail at something as an adult? They certainly won't learn about failure at Harvard, as everyone gets an 'A' at Harvard.

traditionalguy said...

How did Richard Sherman get a Stanford Degree with honors? By trying to win.

traditionalguy said...
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Ralph Hyatt said...

OK, I actually read the linked article and find that I mostly agree with it. Except for the part where she implies that college admissions officers think the current system is dysfunctional.

I think that they are happy to be able to charge kids and their parents huge amounts of money while paying the people who actually do most of the teaching a pittance and funneling the difference into huge salaries for college administrators.

mrs. e said...

"Meanwhile, I run into people with Masters in Performing Arts who are working as waiters.

I feel bad for these kids. They are being ripped off and are paying for the privilege of being mal-educated."

That's a pretty self-rightous statement - why feel bad for them? I know folks who have gone down this road, eyes wide open and knowing full well it was going to be a grind. That is was going to take persistence and patience to make their dreams work. I give them a lot of credit - it's not the path that I chose, but I respect them for their chutzpah for sticking with it.

Hagar said...

McArdle generalizes a bit too much from her own family situation for the purpose of writing a daily column, but there is nothing new about a columnist doing that.
Take Mr. Card's advice and think a little about the smaller points that McArdle was actually trying to make.

TosaGuy said...

"Now, more than ever..."

I learned to write better than that at my Midwestern state school.

Ann Althouse said...

"I'm not sure I agree with you, Professor."

When you say things like that, I would appreciate your being clear what you believe I've said. Or just say what you think.

Ann Althouse said...

"The parts Ann selected reverse the purpose of the article. McArdle is pointing out that in the quest to push kids through the elite college funnel we force them to take fewer risks…."

Yes, that's true. I focused where I did because I felt it revealed something about where McArdle is coming from. She's giving a lot of advice, but where does it really come from? What's her motivation? I don't know. I'm just raising a question. And the statements at that point are just weirdly off. I sensed emotion, so that's my point of entry.

Ralph Hyatt said...

"That's a pretty self-rightous statement - why feel bad for them? I know folks who have gone down this road, eyes wide open and knowing full well it was going to be a grind. That is was going to take persistence and patience to make their dreams work. I give them a lot of credit - it's not the path that I chose, but I respect them for their chutzpah for sticking with it."

Don't mean to be self-righteous, but Masters in Performing Arts? In Alabama? If you want to make it in showbiz, go to where showbiz is and get work in showbiz. I fail to see any value added by that degree.

annk said...

I often wish I had pursued a manual trade (or decided to be a writer from the get-go and given 100% to that). And I have a master's and Ph.D. in higher education administration!

betamax3000 said...

Not Too many Things Sexier Than a Art History Grad Paying Off Her College Debt By Shifts at the Strip Club.

SGT Ted said...

College has devolved to High School 2.0: The Next Four Years.

Ralph Hyatt said...

Did a little investigation. I remembered seeing an article about the TV show "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" being used as the subject matter for an entire class at some college or another.

Looked on the Internet, Portland State U. among others was offering this class in 2010.

Portland State U. has a cost calculator.

http://www.pdx.edu/finaid/net-price-calculator

I filled in the info as 18 yr old, parents have two kids make middle income (think I put in $49,999 to some other amount) only one kid in school, in state tuition, living on campus. Total estimated net cost to attend is $18,690 for one year.

Assuming Portland U requires 3 classes per semester for full time that's nine classes per academic year.

$18,690 / 9 = $2076 per class

ErnieG said...

"But we have become crazy on the subject of college. Now, more than ever, we view a college degree as an absolute prerequisite for a minimally decent life." In order to have a "minimally decent life" you have to be able to get a job. One thing that distinguishes salaried jobs from trades, even well-paying trades, is whether or not you have to go through Human Resources to get hired, even for a job unrelated to your major.

Testing practical skills is straightforward. Either you can hang a door or you can't. Either you can weld pipe or you can't. Testing general intellectual skills is different. Employers used to be able to test employment candidates to see whether they were smart, could solve math problems, and write a coherent paragraph.

The testing part is the way it used to be, before Griggs v. Duke Power, 401 U.S. 424 (1971). Since Griggs, employers are forbidden to use such tests because they are “loaded” and discriminate against minorities. Possession of a degree has become a proxy for the pre-employment test. No matter how good you are, you can't get in the door without one. A number of unintended consequences have followed, including the proliferation of worthless degrees, the diversity plague, and the “Higher Education Bubble.”

Mitch H. said...

Don't mean to be self-righteous, but Masters in Performing Arts? In Alabama?

I know a guy in darkest Alabama with a theatre degree, his wife got a teaching position in a state college and he followed in her train. He travels as far as Atlanta to get work, mostly backstage stuff and so forth. He's also considerably to my right, politically, so maybe Alabama feels like home to him. Although I barely see him once every two to three years at the convention we both helped found over twenty years ago...

Professor, McArdle can be an entitled member of the privileged classes without it reflecting poorly on her thesis, which I find compelling. Our ruling classes are quickly becoming our striving classes, and yet the governance they produce is less competent or assured than that which the old, entitled, gentlemen's-C clubmen of yore had to offer.

MadisonMan said...

Why Republicans don't drag university Presidents to demand answers as to why college tuition has skyrocketed so much is lost on me.

Link. I know, I know, Huff Post, but it's interesting. Key point: 87 administrators were hired every day between 1987 and 2012.

Everyone knows why College costs have skyrocketed. What people don't know is why are assistants to the assistant Vice-Provost for Sustainability actually needed?

In my view, College Presidents go to National Conferences where they see presentations on how Podunk U now does this, that or the other thing with a new Administrator and they think "We should do that here!"

Shout-out to Iowa State for holding the line on Administrator numbers! (I think they're one of the very few).

RecChief said...

"Testing practical skills is straightforward. Either you can hang a door or you can't. Either you can weld pipe or you can't. Testing general intellectual skills is different."

I call bullsit. Ever had to install a door in a 100 yr old house where nothing is square, plumb or level? And have it hang correctly while at the same time being pleasing to the eye and not look out of place? Ever had to fix piping that wasn't installed as the original blue print called for and no change order was kept? Ever repaired something that someone else made a hash of first?

All these situations require problem solving skills that seem to me to be far beyond the reach of people who use their "general intellectual skills" to sit around and think about the latest microaggression or divine the meaning behind Pollack's "No 5, 1948"

mccullough said...

The end point might be that you either get into an elite college (or law school, etc.) or it's not worth the money.

The legacy rate at the Ivy League is pretty high and so is the average family income. It would be easier for most smart boys from the middle class to get into those schools by playing football than by trying to compete with the legacies and uber wealthy.

RecChief said...

"A number of unintended consequences have followed, including the proliferation of worthless degrees, the diversity plague, and the “Higher Education Bubble.”

No to mention Affirmative Action and disparate impact suits.

but I do agree with BetaMax 3000, or at least I did when I was a younger, single, man: "Not Too many Things Sexier Than a Art History Grad Paying Off Her College Debt By Shifts at the Strip Club."

Ralph Hyatt said...

$18,690 / 9 = $2076 per class

Wait, there's more. The class is being designed and taught by a student under the supervision of a faculty member under the auspices of something called the "Chiron Studies Program."

The info given about it:

http://www.pdx.edu/chiron/about-chiron-studies

seems to indicate that it started in 1968 as a way to give students course credit for activism/indoctrination without costing Portland U any money.

My father would have called this a racket. But he was just a welder who managed to raise four kids even though he had to drop out of school before high school to help support his family during the depression. So what did he know?

Kelley said...

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has proposed a state plan (called the Tennessee Promise) to waive tuition for students at community colleges, vocational schools, and technology centers. Setting aside $300 million from the Tennessee Education Lottery to fund an endowment that would cover all tuition and fees to two-year institutions for all graduating high school seniors.

I like this idea. It allows students to make a choice between traditional style college or vocational training. It would boost the state junior college system; would give high school graduates an opportunity to adjust to college classwork and/or beef up any lack of proficiencies (e.g. math, science, writing); and might entice better students across all income levels to stay in state. Then too, they might stay in state beyond college, becoming productive, tax-paying citizens of TN.

This program sounds like a win-win to me. I find it encouraging that Gov Haslam is willing to think outside the box to address the sky-rocketing costs of post-high school education.

http://www.tennessean.com/comments/article/20140203/NEWS/302030083/Haslam-proposes-free-community-college

RecChief said...

Kelley said...
"I like this idea. It allows students to make a choice between traditional style college or vocational training."

Not only that, but it allows students the time to figure out what they want to pursue for a couple of years without the expense of even a State University.

BDNYC said...

The ridiculous social expectations are clear and easy to assail. Stop telling people that they have to go to college to be happy. Some people would be better served earning money during those 4 years while learning a trade or building a business. Why do so many people denigrate that choice? Having the letters "BS" or "BA" associated with your name is nice, but it doesn't mean much anymore except that you paid six figures to spend 4 years taking classes. But there's an embarrassment, particularly among the middle and upper classes, to have a child who doesn't get a college degree.

What is less clear and easy to assail is the pernicious role of government subsidization. The amount our government spends on higher ed is surely responsible to some extent for tuition inflation and some inefficient economic outcomes (like people being unproductive for 4 years and then digging a deeper hole by taking jobs they hate because of economic necessity). No one wants to touch that, though, because government subsidies mostly are directed at those who can't afford college. For a person to be denied the opportunity because of finances is unacceptable to most people.

Both factors feed off each other and reinforce the higher ed bubble.

When an economically disadvantaged student goes to mediocre or worse college to study art history or African-American studies, the higher ed bubble's terrible flaws are laid bare. That person has earned a nearly worthless degree, unless they can somehow rustle up some money and some luck and get into a good law school or something. It's sad.

BDNYC said...

Maybe they should make student debt fully dischargeable. That might impose some much needed caution and rationality in the student loan industry. Can you imagine all the 22 year olds who would declare bankruptcy because they'd have plenty of time to repair their credit?

The student loan predators would have to reassess their practices. Fewer people would be able to get the necessary funds to go to college, though. And that of course is a problem for the higher ed bubble.

ErnieG said...

RecChief, you seem to have missed my point. You describe extremely difficult tests for master carpenters or master plumbers. There can be no doubt that these trades present intellectual challenges. The point I was trying to make is that without either testing or the diploma requirement, there is no way to protect an employer from hiring a functional illiterate or innumerate who would be incapable of handling a simple desk job, and who would be practically impossible to fire in today's climate.

Ralph Hyatt said...

$18,690 * 4 = $74,760

Finance half of that at 3.5 percent which you pay off over 15 years.

Interest paid: $10,720.16

So true cost is $85,480.16 for a four year degree, from Portland State U.

In an environment where non-stem degrees are being devalued and having a stem degree does not guarantee employment as knowledge-based work is increasingly being off-shored.

Large numbers of mal-educated, unemployed (in many cases unemployable), deeply in debt youths are not conducive to a peaceful society.

MadisonMan said...

Not only that, but it allows students the time to figure out what they want to pursue for a couple of years without the expense of even a State University.

For some students this would be great.

I see lots of students at the Tech College in town, though, who are just there to be there. Not really to learn. I think they're there to make their parents happy.

So I hope TN has some kind of grade expectation that you must maintain (although I could *easily* see a Tech College tweaking things so that no one fails -- because higher tuition means more jobs for the Tech/Junior/Community college)

FullMoon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Crack Emcee said...

"I too agonized about getting into a good college... But no one told me at the age of 15 that I’d better focus all my energies on being absolutely perfect."


Lesson One in how to tell when someone's not black - without looking.

Blacks are told they have to be "twice as good", just to be equal, from a very early age.

lgv said...

Graduates from elite schools perpetuate the requirement of the elite school degree. Firms and businesses (and government) that think like that exist in a bubble.

Outside of the bubble, it doesn't matter. That should be the message. The first day on the job is the first day your choice of college doesn't matter. It's true in any job, from law to the NFL. The elite school may have prepped you a little better, but one's long term achievement is based on other factors, primarily aptitude and effort.

I worked for a firm that hired BIG 10 MBAs (or equivalent). The one time we had an Ivy League MBA was the last. He was passed around. No one wanted him. He was very intelligent but couldn't actually produce any actual work.

After 30 years in business, I can tell you that performance is what counts and it has nothing to do with pedigree. Look for achievers. The best employee I ever had graduated from Eastern Michigan. She worked her way through school as a waitress. She learned how to work hard. I'm not interested in hiring people who spent their summers in the Hamptons.

Someone should start a law firm filled with overachieving graduates from Michigan, Wisconsin, Texas, etc. They would probably charge less and kick the ass of every blue-blooded Wall Street/Big Law firm that only loves the elite schools.

Jane the Actuary said...

I take issue with your characterization of McArdle's readers! -- but don't have time for a full-blown "how dare you stereotype!" rant.

Wondering about the "nerd" tag, though? Is the girl in question supposed to be a nerd? It takes more than 4.0-grubbing to be a nerd (and I know about nerddom!).

Ralph Hyatt said...

"Graduates from elite schools perpetuate the requirement of the elite school degree. Firms and businesses (and government) that think like that exist in a bubble."

I agree, the problem is that from here it looks like the people in that bubble are the people who have the power and they are using that power to perpetuate their power. At the expense of the rest of us.

ALP said...

annk:

I often wish I had pursued a manual trade (or decided to be a writer from the get-go and given 100% to that). And I have a master's and Ph.D. in higher education administration!
*******************
Me too. I went to a small rural HS in upstate NY; there 80 people in my graduating class. The dividing line between college and voctech was severe: if you had ANY brains at all, you were encouraged to go to college. Leaning towards the arts, I had an inkling in my young mind that taking up a trade would be a pragmatic thing to do for a person that loved to make things. I'll never forget the look on the so-called "guidance counselor's" face when I told him I was interested in the trades.

"Oh no - that's for kids who can't hack college, I can't put you on that path!"

Roger Sweeny said...

A number of people have mentioned Griggs, which pretty much outlawed any sort of pre-employment testing that would have what we call today a "disparate impact" on some racial or ethnic group. Ironically, Griggs and its progeny have allowed employers to hire and promote on the basis of degrees attained, even though this has a tremendous "disparate impact" on blacks and hispanics.

"Poor people" are not in a protected category but it is well-known that the likelihood of doing well in school correlates strongly with family income. Requiring successful school attendance creates a built-in headwind for poor people.

This is a major reason academics are passionate about affirmative action. They know that--to put it in the worst possible way--they are a respectable way to discriminate against blacks, hispanics, and poor people in general, and they very much don't want to be!

paul a'barge said...

Megan McArdle voted for Barack Obama. Her book is about how to fail big

She ought to know. Loser.

Titus said...

I studied my ass off while in school at Waunakee Wisconsin. I knew by the age of 9 I had to get out of that state and getting good grades was my top priority.

Also I didn't have any friends so it wasn't like I had anything else to do.

Group hug

Auntie Ann said...

It's supply and demand. Everyone wants to get into the same handful of schools, but the number of places at those schools has remained about the same, while the number of applicants has skyrocketed.

In 1984 there were about 10,000 applications submitted to Yale (about 2,000 got in). This year, 30 years later, that number topped 30,000 applicants. They still only accept about 2,000.

If you want to get into a school like that, you have to be perfect, and do everything: found an important charity, read to the elderly after school every day since you are 5, play 7 musical instruments and have several Carnegie Hall concerts, AND be on a sports team that won state...while being in a children's ballet troupe.

Freeman Hunt said...

Professors should do the admissions.

Revenant said...

And it's simply not true that "Now, more than ever, we view a college degree as an absolute prerequisite for a minimally decent life."

What color is the sky on your world?

allison said...

It seems the obvious fallacy of the crowd. McCardle is totally correct that this giant healthy for society. But yes, much like when Charles Murray said not everyone needs to go to college, one wonders of those giving this advice will be the first ones to take it. The pundits are watching everyone standing in the stadium and telling them to sit down. The obvious response is "You first."

allison said...

That said, her message about failure is crucial. The people raising, teaching and training young children are crippling them with success. They may have gotten into Williams, but they are depressed and anxious. They don't know how to work and see terrified of getting a job. Raising helpless neurotics isn't worth it.

Bruce Hayden said...

It's supply and demand. Everyone wants to get into the same handful of schools, but the number of places at those schools has remained about the same, while the number of applicants has skyrocketed.

In 1984 there were about 10,000 applications submitted to Yale (about 2,000 got in). This year, 30 years later, that number topped 30,000 applicants. They still only accept about 2,000.


Went through this 5-6 years ago with my kid. Applied to 7 schools, 6 small private liberal arts, and one state university. Was wait listed at the three top tier liberal arts schools, and admitted to the rest. Went to a lower ranked school, with a nice scholarship. Graduated summa cum laude, and now in a fully funded STEM PhD program as a result. No regrets - better to be a big fish in a smaller pond, than in the middle in a bigger pond, and they graduated debt free.

They went to an exclusive prep school, where a lot of the kids were applying to the Ivy League, top liberal arts schools, etc., and it has gotten really tough in the last couple of years. Not as many legacies as you would expect though any more, despite the hype to the contrary. One dad told me that he was 3rd generation Dartmouth, but kid had been rejected essentially because he wasn't at the top of his class (but still really good grades) and the father had not contributed enough. A lot of the top schools look very closely at contributions, including from alums, and potential contributions. And, this means that really rich parents can get preference for their kids pretty much anywhere, because of the potential for contributions.

Not all that different from 45 or so years ago when I went to college. One fraternity brother, from a top prep school didn't make it into an Ivy League, and had that chip on his shoulder for years. Another got himself into Chicago for his MBA partly as a result of a letter of recommendations of the father of one of our friends - who happened to be a major donor.

It is partly the name, but also the connections that you can make when attending the very top schools. But, as noted, only 2,000 or so get admitted to Yale every year, and that is probably high for a lot of these schools. And, even if you do get in, there is a decent chance that if you aren't running in the right circles already, that those connections won't be made, even at the best schools.

So, right now, I wouldn't suggest sending a kid to a college where they won't come out close to debt free. Maybe, the better Ivys, MIT, Standford, Williams, but no where else. Plenty of ways to do that, and likely more in the future, as more and more instruction goes on-line.