Paying that tuition for the Elite Private University: Will it really open more doors?
For those of you following my posts on college and college visits, thank you for your public and private comments. I hope this post will resonate with many of you and spark even more debate and discussion, so load up my comment box.
After our visits to Case Western Reserve, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, my house became somewhat of a house divided. The heated discussion perhaps at this point of the game was maybe pointless. We were at the beginning phases of the college search. My daughter has high grades but had yet to take those multiple college entrance exams. She hadn’t even applied.
But what if she applies to places like CMU, or my husband’s alma matter, an Ivy League institution, and gets in? My mother-in-law (don’t worry, she never reads my blog) has this crazy idea that my daughter should apply to Yale because they have a fantastic graphic and visual arts program. With tuition at these colleges averaging around $64,000 a year, for a field that is super competitive and mostly employed by freelancers who have to pay their own way for health insurance and retirement funds, I hope that my mother-in-law has a huge college fund set aside for her grandchildren that she has not yet told us about.
Granted, private universities have large endowments and are more likely to bestow deserving students with a generous financial aid package. Let’s look at CMU’s 2012-2013 financial aid profile:
Nearly 70 percent of incoming freshman applied for financial aid and of that group, 77 percent of them were found to have financial need and were awarded an average financial aid package of $35,000 per year.
That same week we visited Pittsburgh-area colleges, the New York Times published a troubling article that said that the elite colleges were becoming even more elite. This might be in part because of the new common application process, where students can fill out online a common application, tweak it just a bit according to each school’s requirements, and with a click – and an extra fee per college – can apply to numerous colleges all at once.
The article stated “….Deluged by more applications than ever, the most selective colleges are, inevitably, rejecting a vast majority, including legions of students they once would have accepted. Admissions directors at these institutions say that most of the students they turn down are such strong candidates that many are indistinguishable from those who get in.”
This article, plus the media coverage that has been pointing to a troubling trend for years that college debt is crushing a generation who can’t find work outside of becoming a barista at Starbucks upon graduation, made me pose the question to my husband – is that private university price tag truly worth it. Isn’t it fiscally responsible to get a great education at a quality state school over an expensive private school?
One take on that outlook is this: When looking at job applicants fresh out of school, those with the Ivy League or private colleges get looked at first, and those graduating from a state school have a greater chance of being overlooked.
For those of you who are graduates of a public state university, like me, that answer can really sting.
I posed this question and put it up for debate on my Facebook status. Got a slew of comments.
Some, who were Ivy League graduates in their 40’s, wondered if they would be accepted by their alma mater if they applied today. A fine arts graduate from CMU said she was accepted based on her portfolio and that parents need to “chill out.” There are “best schools” out there as far as status, but there is a school out there for every student which will serve them the best, and that may not necessarily be an Ivy League school.
Graduates of public state schools stood proudly by their alma mater and said from a regional standpoint, companies know the reputation of state schools in their area. Many managers are, in fact, products of those state schools. However, the grooming and the connections one gets at an Ivy League are clear advantages, some said.
So, there is no clear and dry answer.
My husband and I were still mulling this debate over when we went for breakfast at Pamela’s, in the lovely Shadyside neighborhood in Pittsburgh. As if by some cosmic fate in the academic universe, an older couple was watching us from a nearby table. They were admiring our three children as they wolfed down their pancakes and waffles and listened to our conversation about getting into college.
As it turned out, the gentleman was a mathematics professor at the University of Pittsburgh.
“Listen to me. Don’t waste your money if you have a great in-state public university at your doorstep.”
Which we do.
“I’ve seen so many kids burn out at places like CMU in the undergrad years. The University of Pittsburgh is a fine, fine university. Don’t go into debt,” he said, then turned to my oldest. “If you want the elite private school status, wait for graduate school, where if you get in, they will most likely pay your way through grants and scholarships.”
And with that, he paid his bill and the couple bid us a good day and good luck.
The issue: still up for debate. And I welcome your comments.