There’s no need for students at state universities to envy the Ivies, or to assume that grads from pricey, prestigious schools have a leg up in landing jobs. In fact, when recruiting executives go hunting to hire students who are well-rounded academically and who are best prepared to enter the workforce, their first choices aren’t Harvard, Dartmouth, or other liberal arts schools, but Penn State, the University of Illinois, and other big public universities.
Many students and families justify the high costs of private college education by assuming that a degree from such an institution will pay off in both the short and long run, via a strong start in the job market followed by a better, more lucrative career. But it appears that in many situations, students hoping to get solid, well-paid jobs would be better off with a degree from a much-less expensive state university.
That’s the takeaway from a WSJ survey of recruiters at big companies that collectively hired 43,000 new grads last year. State schools are favored not only because they provide students with well-rounded educations and skills that can be put to immediate use in an actual job, but also because of the numbers game—namely that they have huge numbers of grads, and therefore larger pools of possible employees for recruiters to select from.
Recruiters also like to hire candidates who will keep their own company’s costs down, and state schools tend to be filled with students who live nearby (so the company saves on relocation costs), and who, unlike Ivy Leaguers who might want to job hop every year or go back for advanced degrees, will be more likely to stick with the job for the long haul (so the company saves money on having to hire new people all the time).
In the corresponding list of top 25 colleges ranked by recruiters, 9 of the top 10 colleges are state schools, including the top three: Penn State, Texas A&M, and the University of Illinois-Champaign. In-state tuition at the nine state universities in the top 10 ranges between $5,000 and $15,000 a year (with most about $8K), while the lone private college in the top 10 (Carnegie Mellon) costs over $42K per year in tuition—or more in one year than what you’d pay for four years at most of the state schools.
The survey findings reinforce an idea that personal finance writers and all sorts of cheapskates have heralded for quite some time: When viewing education as an investment in one’s future, state schools are phenomenal values. In general, you get back way more than the money you put in. As for private colleges with tuitions nearing $50K? As a value proposition, the equation is less clear. They can be good values, but only if you wind up making serious bucks in your career, or if you feel like the education you received shaped you in a way that’ll make you more content in life.
Over the years there have been many and conflicting reports about how much—if at all—employers value degrees from certain “prestigious” colleges and universities more than those from public and other less-respected private institutions. Speaking as a former employer of a good many college graduates—and reinforced by many conversations I’ve had with others who manage workforces of their own—I can tell you this: I was infinitely more impressed by an individual who worked his or her way through college and maintained good grades, than by the name of the institution from which they graduated. Give ma a graduate from a state school who did it all by himself any day, over an Ivy Leaguer who got a free ride from Mom and Dad or who is up to his mortarboard in student-loan debt.
Recruiters want candidates who are going to be good workers, so it makes sense that they’d appreciate students who have proved they can work—starting with them working their way through college.