Robert J. Bradbury, <firstname.lastname@example.org>, writes:
> I'll thank Jeff (and John) for their comments and agree with them
> completely. I've had the opportunity to compare the "exclusive"
> educational environment with the "public" educational environment.
> In both situations I can point to both good instructors and bad
> instructors. The *key* difference in my mind is that in the more
> exclusive environment the quality of your fellow students is higher
> and that may provide for both a richer educational experience as
> well as a more competitive environment (which may be good or bad
> depending on your personality).
Robin Hanson once suggested that actually what you are paying for in the big-name colleges is not a superior education, but rather the contacts and reputation which you gain. The Harvard grad will have an advantage for the rest of his life by putting that degree on his resume. But even more, the people he knew, both professors and fellow students, are likely to be able to supply him with contacts, references, and job opportunities which will give him a leg up throughout his career.
This has certainly been in accordance with my own experience. I graduated from a top-rank science/engineering college (in fact the highest ranked college in the US in the recent Business Week survey), and the people I met there got me three out of the four jobs I've held. My current job is the only one I've achieved without benefit of my college background, and even there I was lucky enough to have gotten involved years ago with a guy who went on to form his own company and wanted to hire me.
It sounds cynical, but as they say success in life is often a matter of knowing the right people. Going to a top school is one of the best ways of getting to know people who are likely to turn out to be important and helpful to you.
On-line education may catch on and be successful, but it will never replace the prestige institutions. They actually sell a completely different service, and it is important not to be confused and think they are there primarily to provide an education.