Commentary

Will Top Colleges Assure Top Earnings Later in Life?

It was interesting to see college rankings from The Wall Street Journal the same day an eMarketer story discussed how consumer trust relies heavily on reviews and brand honesty.

As you might expect, Harvard topped the WSJ criteria it factored in: “Does the college have sufficient resources to teach me properly? Will I be engaged, and challenged, by my teacher and classmates? Does the college have a good academic reputation? What type of campus community is there? How likely am I to graduate, pay off my loans and get a good job?”

Some of that data seems highly subjective, but let’s give the Journal the benefit of the doubt. After all, no one ever lost their job picking Harvard as the top U.S. college. But where does brand trust factor into all of this? 

For example, now that it has been confirmed that the University of Southern California carefully tracks who gave how much to the school so they can be sure to admit the kids of major donors, does that in any way compromise its “ranking”?  

According to eMarketer, three of the top 10 factors that lead to an increase in brand trust center around reviews. Nearly all respondents said positive customer reviews increased their trust in a brand, while 80.1% said they trusted companies that have a lot of customers reviews. Doesn’t a review from the WSJ carry a fair amount of weight — certainly more than any individual who feels USC was a waste of time.?

Has USC (which WSJ ranks 18th) tarnished its brand? Will anyone second-guess their decision to apply? Its average net fee, as calculated by the WSJ, is much higher than schools that rank right above or below it, so it is as much an economic decision as it is a hopeful ROI decision for families that want in. 

The whole notion of investing a quarter of a million dollars in your kid’s higher education has come into question, with many contending that the ROI is simply not there (regardless of the school), with lots of examples thrown around of incredibly successful tech industry folks who never went to or didn’t finish college: Paul Allen, Michael Dell, Larry Ellison — and, most famously, Bill Gates. But as someone once told me early on in my career as a college grad, “Listen pal, in New York, even the waiters have college degrees.”

Nevertheless, the prevailing wisdom is that the better the school, the better the chances of success afterwards. Certainly an Ivy League school on your resume speaks louder than, say, Youngstown State (which occupies the lowest rank in the WSJ survey).

What do you think? Has your degree from a top school helped your career? Or have you been a success in spite of your degree?

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