Words of wisdom today will routinely suggest that attending the most prestigious college is the ticket to higher starting salaries and a long life of comfort. But costs are rising so rapidly that the value of attending some "elite" universities may no longer be there.
In 2011, the U.S. News and World Report featured an article naming the 10 priciest universities in the U.S. Only Columbia University, in New York, could boast both a top 10 cost of attendance and a top five overall national ranking. It is no secret that Ivy League schools masquerade as the world's elite universities, but few of them trade their prestige for any real value.
College tuitions rise annually at a far greater rate than average general inflation, and according to a New York Times piece published in early 2012, this rise in cost has seldom contributed to higher starting salaries of college graduates. These starting salaries are, like working wages across the board, experience stagnant growth, even as colleges pour money into renowned professors, cutting edge research and the prestige that follows.
Yet still, the demand for opportunities at elite institutions is greater than ever before. This is partly because of at least a small amount of genuine respect employers have for graduates from the very best schools.
But this respect only goes so far, and it is grossly overrepresented in various examples of popular culture and with success stories that only describe one percent of all scenarios.
The reality is that majority of fresh college graduates step onto a fairly level playing field of job opportunity, regardless of whether they attended a top 20 private institution or a top 50 public institution. And only one of these options has any chance at being reasonably affordable for the average young American.
These trends of attaining prestige at as high a cost as necessary, passing the burdens onto undergraduate and graduate students, and having little to show for it all in the long run are making private institutions with fancy names more of a burden than a benefit. The value of high cost, high prestige universities guarantees nothing more than reputation in name only, where only the absolute best universities pair prestige with a bountiful job outlook.
What we must do is re-adjust our attitudes toward what constitutes a solid education. It does not take a private university running up bills for $40,000 a year to guarantee life's golden ticket. We need to eliminate the misconception that anything less than an Ivy League education will get our students nowhere in life. Prospective students must recognize that value, coupled with academic achievement and effort, is the best way to aid early success.