The Surprising Fact of an Ivy League Degree

Does Getting an Ivy League Degree Matter?

Most people believe that the brand and the alumni networks of Ivy League schools give an advantage to graduates that is reflected in initial earnings as well as throughout life.

Compelling Research Says No

Researchers Stacy Dale and Alan Krueger say (unless you’re Latino, African American, or poor) the answer is no. Other researchers agree the findings are very convincing. They conducted two studies, one in the 1990s and a follow-up one in 2011, which gave the same results. The first study looked at earnings of students who graduated in 1976. The more recent study revisited these same students, but also looked at students who graduated in 1989 and examined the two groups’ earnings through 2007 – a span of 30 years for the first cohort.

The twist that Dale and Krueger did was to compare the earnings of students – all accepted at Ivy League or similar schools – but where some of those students decided to attend a less prestigious school. If the Ivy League brand and an Ivy League alumni network truly mattered and added value, then those who were accepted, but did not attend an Ivy should earn less (because the abilities of both are assumed the same, because both groups were admitted).

But it turns out that there is no difference between the earnings of those who graduated from an Ivy vs. those who did not (but were admitted). This suggests that it is the similar attributes among the students that mattered, not the Ivy League brand or its “social capital” contained in alumni networks.

Even More Surprising

The really counter-intuitive finding in both studies was that the lack of income difference between the Ivy grads and non-Ivy grads held true even when comparing those who graduated from Ivies against those who applied but got rejected, so attended less prestigious schools. Dale and Krueger say this finding compellingly debunks the Ivy League earnings myth, but also — surprisingly — implies that students may know their true abilities better than admissions officers.

Being a Top Student at a School Is Better Than Attending a Top School

The research strongly indicates that — for White middle-class and wealthier students — it is the attributes and abilities of the individual student that matter most, not the vaunted elite brand of the college attended. For African American, non-White Hispanic, and poor students, there does seem to be a benefit to having attended an elite school. It is possible that the elite brand of the school may counter balance negative stereotyping that may otherwise burden some people who are members of these minority segments in the job market.

99.4 percent of all college students are NOT attending an Ivy League school. The surprising secret of an Ivy League degree is that the research persuasively indicates that good students within this vast majority of non-Ivy attending college population can be just as successful as the very few with an Ivy League brand — as well as far more likely to be less burdened by debt.

It is the quality of the man or woman that matters, not the brand of the school that printed the diploma.

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Joel L. A. Peterson is the national award-winning author of the novel, Dreams of My Mothers (Huff Publishing Associates, 2015).

-- 1st Place Winner, 2015 Readers' Favorite National Book Awards (Gold Award)

-- Foreword Reviews’ 2015 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award Winner

“Compelling, candid, exceptionally well written, Dreams of My Mothers is a powerful read that will linger in the mind and memory long after it is finished. Very highly recommended.”

— Midwest Book Review

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