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Intellect

BYU study: Is an elite university worth the price tag?

Choosing where to go to college is a big decision, with a host of academic, social and financial considerations to make.

But in the long run, does it really matter where you go?

Research from BYU professors Eric Eide and Mark Showalter found that going to an elite, highly-selective university isn't as important as many think, at least in regard to their financial future.

"There is a lot of research and anecdotal evidence that suggests there is a large labor market premium associated with attending the most selective schools," Eide said. "Students who can't afford to attend the most prestigious colleges, and those who are unable to get into those schools, may think they're at a sizeable disadvantage after graduation. However, just because average earnings across all students at more selective colleges are higher, it doesn't mean the average within all majors is higher. What major a student chooses can be as important as where they attend."

The researchers compared the earnings of grads from various schools 10 years after they completed their undergrad, controlling for different majors and degrees. They found that business students see the biggest difference, with those who attend elite schools earning 12 percent more than those who went to middle-of-the-pack institutions. But for many others, such as engineers and scientists, those who went to the most selective programs saw only a marginal difference or no difference at all compared to those who went to mid-tier institutions.

So what does this mean for prospective college students looking at where to go and their families who fund them?

"They should carefully examine the costs of attending the schools where they are admitted, and also the expected earnings of the field they want to study," Showalter said. "For some majors, particularly STEM fields, the earnings difference is not that substantial between selective schools and mid-tier schools, while for other majors such as business and liberal arts, the earnings difference is very large."

The study's findings are good news for BYU, seen as one of the best value universities in the country.

Eide's and Showalter's study can be seen in full in Contemporary Economic Policy. Michael Hilmer from San Diego State University was also a co author on the study.

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