From the New York Times:
Certain kinds of students — but not the privileged and the wealthy — benefit greatly from a selective university.
By Kevin Carey, March 15, 2019
Was it worth it?
The celebrities and C.E.O.s arrested in this week’s college bribery scandal were charged with paying up to $1.2 million for guaranteed admission to elite universities. And of course there’s a much larger and mostly legal system whereby rich people pull strings, hire consultants and make enormous tax-deductible donations, all in the hopes of improving their children’s college chances.
Yet academic research suggests that these efforts are mostly a waste of money, and that the seized opportunities would have actually helped other students much more.
In 2014, the economists Stacy Dale and Alan Krueger published an analysis of the benefits of attending a highly selective college. They found that, after statistically controlling for students’ SAT scores, economic background and college ambitions, the long-term financial returns are “generally indistinguishable from zero.” Students who are poised to succeed tend to do so even if they don’t get into the Ivy League.
But there was a crucial exception. There were strong benefits for the subset of black and Hispanic students, and for those whose parents had few educational credentials. It turns out that students who come from less privileged backgrounds benefit greatly from selective colleges. Elite higher education gives them social capital they didn’t already have.In other words, Lori Loughlin’s daughter Olivia Jade Giannulli, who is attending the University of Southern California, would have probably been fine attending Arizona State University. (Arizona State is a thriving public research university that Ms. Giannulli’s father is reported to have cited on F.B.I. wiretaps as the unthinkable destination he would pay bribes to avoid.) When you’re a 19-year-old YouTube star who spends spring break on a billionaire’s yacht, life tends to work out.
Okay, but in the case of this 19-year-old girl who is definitely a full-grown woman, getting her into the right social sphere fast before she falls in love with some loser in Arizona could be a priority.
Let me point out that the the billionaire with whose children she was vacationing on the yacht with are the scions of Los Angeles’s most successful and likely most respectable developer, Rick Caruso, the developer of Southern California’s most admired shopping malls, such as The Grove and The Americana. Marrying a Caruso son or a pal of a Caruso son probably is a goal.
Conversely, say she snagged the richest frat boy at Arizona St, whose dad owns the biggest supermarket chain in Arizona or whatever. Her mom is an actress in Los Angeles and probably would prefer her daughter not make a life for herself in Arizona. So, there can be a lot of value in getting your child set up your home.
And this girl is some kind of social media celebrity, so getting her picture taken with Arizona celebrities like Barry Goldwater VI or whomever isn’t that good for her career compared to California celebrities. (Actually, Barry Goldwater Jr. used to live down the street from me in Toluca Lake when he was my Congressman around 1970. He was having a very nice life dating movie starlets and selling stocks and never forgave Jerry Pournelle for talking him into running for Congress.)
Also, I suspect at the very high end that for a talented person to get into, say, Harvard can create opportunities to network with other talents. Here are 4 well-known Harvard who-you-know success stories:
– Future Microsoft billionaires Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer were friends at Harvard.
– Friends of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg at Harvard who became billionaires include Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes. (Hughes isn’t even a programmer, he just helped out without the verbal side of Facebook.)
– Friends of the opinion magazine editor Michael Kinsley at Harvard include opinion magazine names such as James Fallows and Mickey Kaus
– A sizable fraction of The Simpsons writers who revolutionized TV comedy in the 1990s were Harvard friends.
I suspect a lot of similar stories about Silicon Valley successes could be told about people who lived down the dorm hall at Stanford from somebody who dragged you in his wake to a fortune.
But these cases are kind of rare, so probably wouldn’t show up in a typical statistical study.