Thomas Sowell

FOR MANY HIGH SCHOOL SENIORS and their parents, this is the time of year when colleges let them know if their applications have been accepted. For those who have been chosen, it is now their turn to make their own choices among the colleges that have sent acceptances.

One of the most over-rated factors in these choices are the big names of some colleges and universities. There may be some famous professors at Ivy U., but that doesn't mean much to an undergraduate who is more likely to be taught by graduate students or by temporary "gypsy faculty" who teach introductory courses that the academic stars consider too boring to teach themselves.

For the kind of megabucks tuition that can leave both students and parents in hock for years, this is no bargain. A far better education may be obtained at a good quality college where courses are taught by professors who are competent and available, rather than by the graduate assistants of some research grant baron, to whom undergraduates are a nuisance that he doesn't want to be bothered with.

For minority students, there are further dangers in big-name colleges and universities that want them as warm bodies which visibly demonstrate "diversity" on campus, regardless of whether these students last long enough to graduate.

Despite a recent book by a couple of retired Ivy League university presidents, suggesting that it is imperative that blacks go to elite colleges, whether or not their qualifications match those of the other students there, the cold fact is that it is infinitely better to graduate from Hillsdale College or Birmingham Southern than to flunk out of Berkeley or Columbia. It is also better to get an engineering degree from Cal State at San Luis Obispo than to squeak through some Ivy League school by taking soft courses in subjects that prepare you for nothing but unemployment.

It is a monument to the dedication of many parents that they are willing to take out second mortgages on their homes, in order to pay exorbitant tuition at some prestige institutions. Seldom is it worth it.

Some people point to the fact that students who graduate from big-name colleges earn higher incomes later on. But kids who go horseback riding undoubtedly also go on to earn higher incomes than kids who don't. Does that mean that parents should buy their child a horse, in order to ensure bigger paychecks down the road? Prestige colleges, like horseback riding, are signs of other things that are often the real reason why some people have better chances in life.


Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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