SEATTLE — College tuitions are becoming prohibitively expensive for many people, with Harvard University now costing almost $61,000 a year for tuition, room, board and fees. Given the high price tag, is it worth it to graduate from a highly selective school versus a less expensive, lower-tier one?
The answer is, yes, "selectivity matters a lot," at least for most majors, according to two researchers.
The duo compared the salaries of students who graduated from highly to not-so-selective colleges in the United States. In all, they found that 10 years after graduation, "graduates from the most selective colleges earn[ed] about $16,000 more annually compared to graduates from average selective colleges," they wrote in a new study, which has yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal. [9 Ways Going to College Affects Your Health]
Moreover, the researchers found that a gender gap exists, even among graduates of highly selective colleges, such as Harvard and Stanford. Women who attended top-tier colleges earned about 16 percent less than men who majored in the same discipline at the same or other highly selective colleges, the researchers said.
But selectivity still mattered. Women who graduated from top colleges earned more, on average, than women who attended less selective institutions, such as Indiana State University or Eastern Oregon University, the scientists found.
The researchers, Dirk Witteveen, a doctoral candidate of sociology, and Paul Attewell, a professor of sociology and urban education — both at The Graduate Center at The City University of New York (CUNY) — investigated whether there was a link between college selectivity and future salary.
Selectivity is different from quality, the researchers noted. Whereas quality usually measures a student's SAT/ACT scores, expenditures per full-time student and the ratio of students to faculty members, selectivity is a narrower concept that emphasizes the academic composition of the student body. Selectivity is usually measured by average SAT scores, they said.
"Selectivity acts as a powerful signal of the intelligence and ambition of a college’s student body as a whole, rather than a measure specifying the quality of the education that a particular graduate has received," the researchers wrote in a draft of their study.
Past studies have found a small link, or even no link, between attending a selective college and earning a higher average salary. But it's difficult to account for certain factors that also could influence the results and to use a nationally representative sample, and the new study did do those things, the researchers said.
For instance, the scientists controlled for gender, age, race, parental income, parental education, SAT score, college GPA, college major and region of employment following college, among other factors. In addition, they included only college graduates who are now full-time employees.
Then, the researchers looked at nationally representative surveys from 3,840 full-time workers who graduated from college in 1993 and 4,670 full-time workers who graduated in 2008. The 1993 group gave results 10 years after graduation (when they were about 33 years old), and the 2008 group gave results four years after graduation (about 26 years old).
The gender findings were stark. The women in the 1993 group who graduated from the most selective colleges earned an average yearly income of $62,400 in 2003 — about as much as the men who graduated from the least selective schools, who made an average of $62,200. The gender gap was also visible four years after graduation for the 2008 group, with the top-tier women earning less (about $52,400) than the low-tier men (about $56,500). [7 Ways to Reduce Job Stress]
Students could still make impressive salaries at lower-tier schools, as long as they majored in the fields of health, business/management and the math-related disciplines, such as computer science and engineering, the researchers found.
Given that earnings in these fields are relatively similar among the highly selective and very selective colleges, "you might therefore want to choose a slightly lower competitive college if you think they have a good program in your favorite discipline," as a way to save money on tuition, Witteveen told Live Science in an email.
People who majored in education earned the lowest income, although they still made more if they attended a highly selective school versus a low-tier school, he said. Because people who major in different subjects can have vastly different salaries, the Department of Education's "College Scorecard" likely isn't very helpful, as it just gives the raw average of graduate salaries, instead of assessing them differently, Witteveen said.
The study was presented here Sunday (Aug. 21) at the American Sociological Association's annual meeting.
Original article on Live Science.