This is a partially-formed synthesis of some recent reading and a few related threads here on the SDMB. Feel free to post supporting and contrary data.
The mother lode of info for this would appear to be USN&WR’s College Compass, but I don’t really want to pony up $30 just to poke around for preliminary info. I might (and might have to) if this comes together. Suggestions for other resources welcome.
Here’s my contention:
[li]Top-tier colleges (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, MIT etc.) have high tuition and fees, but also have substantial scholarship, endowment and internal financial assistance for students who qualify for this elite tier of education. As a result, their students pay something less than the “list price” and accumulate little if any student debt. These colleges also tend to have modest athletics programs, more focused on the traditional reasons than mass media exposure and income. Many students will come from families with financial resources to pay most of the costs.[/li].
[li]Bottom-tier colleges (4-year) have modest costs and rely on both affordability and government student aid programs. Students accumulate modest debt if any completing a degree at these institutions. Most have low-tier athletics programs that compete regionally and off-media, if at all. Many students will come from families who can contribute little but have incomes that open the door to grants and subsidies.[/li].
[li]The middle range of colleges and universities have ever-escalating costs but lack substantial scholarship and endowment assets. Many students do not qualify for lower-income grants and assistance, but do not come from families that can afford the entire cost. Most students will need student loans to complete their degree and will end up with a substantial debt load on graduation. These schools tend to have the most prominent athletics programs and both receive large donor/grant/endowment funds for these programs and make significant money from media and logo sales. Most scholarships are given to fill these athletics teams with premium players. The athletics department is not only the largest and best-funded, but is the school’s primary “marketing facet” to attract new students and retain contributing alumni.[/li][/ol]
So far, I can’t find any significant contradictions or exceptions in general searching of costs, rankings, athletic standings, and student loan/debt amounts.
Here’s my tentative conclusion: If you are genuinely elite student, a world-class education is yours for somewhere between free and comparatively modest cost. If you are an average student of modest economic means, a low-cost education is readily available.
However… if you are an average to ‘better’ student of moderate means, you are likely to spend a multiple of either top or bottom tier students, sometimes 3-5 years of your expected salary or more, to get something between a second-rate and moderate education. Furthermore, you are likely to overspend for such second-rate results because the schools you applied to were aggressively sold to you, not the least on their fabulous sports history. In other words, it’s another case of the middle class, middle tier, middle ability being convinced that they were too good for modest, affordable “product” and that they could spend their way into the elite tier.
Thoughts? After the University of The Midwest crowd stops steaming?
(Also note that I mean this in sweeping terms - there are certainly first-rank students at community colleges, and dull scions at Yale, and colleges with one truly outstanding school amid second-rate sisters.) But in general…