The value of a ‘super-selective’ college

by Fred

Does It Matter Where You Go to College?
Research suggests that elite colleges don’t really help rich white guys. But they can have a big effect if you’re not rich, not white, or not a guy.

Key points:
(1) “The difference we found is that college selectivity does seem to matter, especially for married women, by raising earnings almost entirely through the channel of increased labor force participation,” she says.

If you’re not an economist, that might sound complicated. But it’s pretty simple. For the vast majority of women, the benefit of going to an elite college isn’t higher per-hour wages. It’s more hours of work. Women who graduate from elite schools delay marriage, delay having kids, and stay in the workforce longer than similar women who graduate from less-selective schools.

(2) ” lower-income students at an elite school such as Columbia University have a “much higher chance of reaching the [top 1 percent] of the earnings distribution” than those at an excellent public university, such as SUNY Stony Brook in Long Island”

(3) ” The simplest answer to the question “Do elite colleges matter?” is: It depends on who you are. In the big picture, elite colleges don’t seem to do much extra for rich white guys. But if you’re not rich, not white, or not a guy, the elite-college effect is huge. It increases earnings for minorities and low-income students, and it encourages women to delay marriage and work more”

What do you think?

Also:

Calculating the Risk of College

(Original link from the WSJ:  Calculating the Risk of College)

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92 thoughts on “The value of a ‘super-selective’ college

  1. “For the vast majority of women, the benefit of going to an elite college isn’t higher per-hour wages. It’s more hours of work. Women who graduate from elite schools delay marriage, delay having kids, and stay in the workforce longer than similar women who graduate from less-selective schools.”

    Hmm, methinks we once again have a causation/correlation issue. The article seems to assume that going to an elite college leads women to be more focused on work. But it seems more likely to me that women who are career-focused are more likely to seek out an elite college than those who plan to work only until they marry and have kids. Certainly I’d never go hundreds of thousands of dollars into debt for an elite school unless I planned on a career that would enable me to pay it off.

    I think the article also misses the value of signaling. In a world where minorities/women still face discrimination in the workplace, a degree from an elite school may signal that the holder is one of the “safe” ones, who is smart and career-focused and will work hard.

  2. It depends is the BIG factor. Reasons IMO, not to choose the only a HSS.
    1. If you know the career you want to pursue, you want to go to the school that is “known” for that, which may not be a HHS.
    2. If the school has the major you want, is has a “good enough” program, and is willing to give you a scholarship or grant vs a loan, resulting in minimal or no student debt.
    3. If the structure of the program is more suited to your success. (Example, DD#2 is likely more suited to a “project-based” program or shorter semesters interspersed with co-ops/internships.)

    I agree with LFB on the signaling.

  3. Hmm, methinks we once again have a causation/correlation issue.

    It’s out of control. Especially with the second article. I was thinking, “Why are people so blind to it?” I guess it all comes down to people wanting to think they are in control.

  4. About the second link – I am always curious on the 4 and 6 year difference, how much of that is program choice. For example, at some schools, if you are doing co-ops/internships and/or are receiving a co-terminus masters, that is rarely achievable in 4 years. While the 6 years is seen as a negative, if two non-consecutive semesters of that was spent in paying co-ops and a year completing your masters, that seems positive rather than negative to me.

  5. AM,

    I think most of the items you mentioned can be done in 5 years. If it’s taking 6 years, you’re most like on “the 6 year plan.” You partied too much or just shut down, dropped out, went on academic probation, etc. etc.

  6. On the second article’s 4-6-never and student loans charts, I wished they would have used some way to signal minority/socioeconomic status in the different segments. My understanding is that the bulk of the “didn’t finish college”/”still have loans” crew are minorities and the poor (categories that tend to overlap). A chart populated with generic white faces, with some extra shading or crinkly hair sprinkled in here and there (presumably to demonstrate inclusiveness), hides that disparity.

  7. This doesn’t match up at all with the data I have seen on social mobility, which is measured as moving kids from low income families into middle class or higher income ranges. The elites generally do much worse on measures of social mobility than particular non-elites.

  8. I agree with all that Laura & Austin say. That was some of my motivation for sending the articles in after I read them.

    On the ‘known for’ idea that Austin brings up I point to Suny Maritime. Unless you’re from the NYC tri-state area or are in the Merchant/ship-running business you probably haven’t heard of it. But a couple of guys my kids’ ages went there…in-state public school…got their degrees and licenses/certifications to run an engine room or whatever on ships/boats, and landed jobs starting at ~$90-$100k/year. I don’t know enough about the longer term upside/career advancement opportunities for people with a degree in any of their 10 maritime-focused bachelors degrees, but starting at $100k as a 22yo seems like a good launching pad.

  9. @Mooshi: But remember, this article is talking about mobility for minorities who actually made it through to graduation. It doesn’t talk about the disproportionate number that bailed (which was the big reason I wished the charts showed that).

  10. Rhett – A friend of our’s son is now likely on the 6 year route because once he did his co-op, it threw off the course sequencing. I don’t know all the details, but the issue was that two courses you take at the same time have historically been offered in spring and summer. His co-op was in the spring. But, this past summer they were not offered and he has had to wait until Spring 2019 to take them. As these are pre-requisites for other classes, it has thrown a wrench in his timing to be done with his masters in 5 years.

  11. LfB, there are a number of ways to measure social mobility, some of which take graduation rates into account, and others that do not. The study described here used tax data to track earnings of graduates. They developed a mobility index which combines data on how many poor students are enrolled along with how many move from the bottom 40% (income) to the top 40%. This particular study has been very influential and much discussed in higher ed circles. You can quickly see that the schools that are at the top of this index tend to be mid tier publics

  12. The US News rankings now include social mobility and graduation rates for Pell recipients

    “New this year in the outcomes section are two social mobility factors that together make up 5 percent of the total ranking. One looks at the graduation rates of Pell Grant recipients, and the other compares Pell-recipient graduation rates to those of all students. Both of those figures are then adjusted for the share of all students who are Pell recipients. So if two colleges have the same Pell graduation rates, but one has a larger share of Pell recipients, the second college would earn more points in the formula. U.S. News counts the graduation rate formula as also indicating social mobility and so says that 13 percent of its formula is now based on social mobility.”

    https://www.insidehighered.com/admissions/article/2018/09/10/us-news-says-it-has-shifted-rankings-focus-social-mobility-has-it

  13. But, this past summer they were not offered and he has had to wait until Spring 2019 to take them.

    I know two examples of that one in under-grad and the other in grad school (MBA.) In both cases the schools said, “Just take the class online at XYZ and will accept the credits so you can get out of here on time.*” Is there a way to know how accommodating a school will be and how much effort and flexibility they will offer to get you out on schedule?

    * I guess in theory the kid could asked and they might have said yes but he didn’t think to ask.

  14. Rhett said “I know two examples of that one in under-grad and the other in grad school (MBA.) In both cases the schools said, “Just take the class online at XYZ and will accept the credits so you can get out of here on time.*” Is there a way to know how accommodating a school will be and how much effort and flexibility they will offer to get you out on schedule?”

    This gets done all the time but there are some barriers. One is that as you get into specialized courses, finding a match at another school can be really hard. That is particularly true in more esoteric majors. Also if your program is accredited, you have to be careful that the courses are really equivalent and you might have to show that when reaccreditation time rolls around. Another big barrier is that these online courses are not cheap.

    We also will do substitutions – tell the student they can take course B instead of course A. But once we have ABET, we will not be able to do that.

  15. Forbes has also entered the social mobility ranking game. This site is for their Best Value colleges, which is a more traditional ranking that takes mobility into some account. But scroll down to American Dream U, which shows their rankings based solely on mobility. Take a look at the number one school on that measure!
    https://www.forbes.com/best-value-colleges/#490a794c245b

  16. @Mooshi: Right — but the mobility rate depends both on upward mobility and on how many kids at the school start in a lower socioeconomic tier. The chart above that shows that Ivy+ is correlated with the highest change in socioeconomic tier, for those kids who make it through; it’s just that those colleges don’t start with nearly as many poor kids (as today’s article also points out). So practically speaking, the most selective colleges do seem to offer the highest potential for income mobility for the kids who get in, but the mid-tier publics offer the highest mobility in practice because they admit so many more poor kids to start with.

  17. Also if your program is accredited, you have to be careful that the courses are really equivalent and you might have to show that when reaccreditation time rolls around.

    Then a lot of it comes down to the school caring enough to keep their options open.

    I assume “not being offered” could down down to a prof going out on FMLA and the process not moving fast enough to get someone to take over the class. A more conscientious school could have backup plans in place and other just don’t bother.

  18. Rhett – Again, not my child, but my understanding is that he has pushed pretty hard for “options”. One that he was telling us about and looks promising is to take only those two classes next fall to sync up all his classes again, but work for a professor doing research. Apparently, it would pay him a “decent” wage AND be considered as 4 hours of course work (an extra elective), which will keep him in the full-time student category and eligible for the scholarship he has. It still puts him on the 6 year plan, but there is a semester of income and experience plus the professor would work around his class schedule. We are keeping our fingers crossed for hi.

  19. Rhett, if the program is accredited, they have to offer the required courses often enough for students to get through. The accrediting bodies will look at that. Usually, when there is a problem with a graduating senior not being able to get a course, it is because the student is a transfer or has changed majors, and is thus trying to get courses out of sequence.

  20. Not sure if someone here posted an article on a minority woman at an elite college. In the article the woman got into an elite college but her major was not a high paying one and in spite of having an elite college degree she was in financial difficulty. So, an elite college will help significantly financially if you are a minority but only if you are going into a high paying profession.

  21. The accrediting bodies will look at that.

    That sounds like one of those phrases that could really make things happen… if you knew enough to use it.

  22. “A more conscientious school could have backup plans in place and other just don’t bother.”

    Certainly a co-op program complicates things, but it’s my casual observation that a HSS will work tooth and nail to get its students to graduate in four years. That’s way different from good and even very good schools in lower tiers, but of course it also reflects their demographics. And when you’re comparing costs, shaving a year or two off can mean big savings.

  23. Rhett & MM – In the case of friend’s son, very few students in his major do a fall or spring co-op. They either do summer internships or study abroad earlier in the program before sequencing is as tight. So, he is an outlier as MM noted. I asked if he’d make the same choice again and he said yes because the co-op was with a company he’d like to work for upon graduation. He said the co-op went well and they are talking to him about summer employment this coming summer.

    This anecdata, but to the point, he will have a much stronger resume (if all the options he is pursing work out) than a kid that makes it through in 4 years of straight school.

  24. From the Forbes list MM posted:
    8 of the top 13 are publics
    — 6 of those are UC system schools (despite all the supposed havoc wrought on their finances in the 42 years since prop 13 was passed). (& Santa Cruz, Riverside are #64 & #77).

    BTW, MM, congrats to your kid.

  25. My super selective college degree, including the experience of being exposed to a world I never knew existed, was instrumental to the personal development and upward mobility of this particular not-rich not-WASP not-male first gen college graduate. In addition to all the obvious advantages, the way I talked my way in at 16 without a high school degree and later recovered from a mid college career screw up to receive academic accolades gave me the soul knowledge that I could succeed in the wider world if I would just get out of my own way. I know that no one thinks my experience has any relevance since I am a) of Medicare age and society has changed (most younger folks forget or are truly ignorant of how much being not male was a barrier in those days), b) there was no self-harming effort required of me to obtain admission and to graduate, and c) the cost was manageable for my thrifty depression era mom and my earnings.

  26. Meme,

    All your points are very valid. But if anyone was going to discount what you said, ” I talked my way in at 16 without a high school degree” would totally be the reason.

  27. I concur that co-ops wreak havoc on course sequences and that at many/most public schools, courses may only be offered once/year. They are also not available online due to lab work/group project requirements.

    I second LfB”s correlation observation. If I were doing a study like this, I would have income top out as an output variable where anyone with either an individual or household income at or above the 95th percentile for the county hits the maximum income limit. (I’d run the numbers with individual and household incomes.) I wonder if a few very successful outliers are dominating the model.

    Anecdotally, I think I and my bridesmaid/math camp friend who lives in Champaign/Urbana are about as happy as our friends with more prestigious jobs. We don’t fit LfB’s “work until you’re married” assumption but we both have husbands in corporate jobs who outearn us and have less flexibility/more hours. Our housing costs and commute times are far lower than those of similar friends in Boston, Bay Area and Seattle. The big city friends are either childless or had one child later than we did. Most of the people who went to prestigious schools had parents who could pay for most of it, and most of us who went to non-prestigious schools had parents who couldn’t/wouldn’t.

    I’ll be interested to see what my SAHM friends who didn’t plan to be SAHM’s do as their children mature. My guess is some will go into teaching of some sort more as an avocation than a career.

  28. Rhett, but not when the classes aren’t set up to be online. In chemical engineering, a class offered only once/year probably has no online option due to lack of demand/ROI, at least at the land grant schools I’m familiar with.

  29. WCE,

    The University of North Dakota’s online chemical engineering degree is a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering. The program has been created specifically to be flexible and not get in the way of your busy lifestyle while you pursue your education; the only time that students will have to travel to campus in during the summer semester for labs, which only run for two weeks.

    The issue would be you being able to take a class at U of ND if it wasn’t being offered at U of IA.

    https://www.onlinecollegeplan.com/online-colleges-chemical-engineering/

  30. @WCE: note that I didn’t say anything about the relative happiness of the two sets. ;-) Just that I think women attending super-selective, high-priced schools are more likely to be drawn there because at 17 they are focused on the career opportunities the degree would make available to them, and that those women would thus be more likely to stay in the workforce longer than those who have different priorities at 17.

  31. Online courses are problematic when you need access to specialized lab equipment. Research also shows that students are less likely to succeed at online courses than face to face courses. I have taught online courses a number of times and find they are most effective for “info dump” type courses – the kind of course that involves memorizing and perhaps writing about a large body of text based information. I found though, that trying to teach programming and problem solving courses online was not nearly as effective, especially for struggling students.

  32. I’ll also add in Ada’s point that HSS offer career opportunities that are high on prestige but low on compensation. RBG makes 1/3 as much on SCOTUS as the general counsel of America’s largest pontoon boat manufacturer for example.

  33. I know that no one thinks my experience has any relevance
    ? Definitely selling yourself short.

  34. My observation (through my DD) is even among Totebaggy girls, there are varying levels on interest in a career. Some of DD’s friends are content to do well enough and are looking to be educated enough to attract a UMC spouse. Then there are some who are fiercely competitive and have the ability to go elite schools.

  35. Rhett, I have been surprised at how little effort people go to in order to graduate on time. If the class I needed were full, I would attend and do the homework for the first month, at least, in hopes that the professor would sign me in if someone else dropped.

    I took Organic Chemistry II at University of Cincinnati during a co-op in a somewhat similar scenario. The material covered didn’t perfectly align with my Organic I class, so I have some gaps, and because it was a trimester vs. semester school, I wound up with 2 2/3 semester hours vs. the required 3 hours. The deviance was allowed because I was in the Honors program but wasn’t allowed under regular university rules. I don’t know if there were other ways to get those rules waived, but doing what I did required a fair amount of self-advocacy. The university bureaucracy is designed to thwart, not to assist.

  36. Rhett – This came up on the parent FB page for DD#1’s school recently. Her school allows a total of 32 credits (1 year) of course work towards a bachelor’s degree to be from AP/IB or transfers from another school. Next, it depends on your major. Just an example – a higher level chemistry class – if you are a chemistry or chemical engineering student, they may not accept the transfer, but if you are a biology major taking it as a “free elective” they may.

    It is not as simple as is it possible because some of it is about money and some of it is about rigor and some of it is about keeping the kids’ gpas on a fairly equal footing.

  37. It took me about 10 years to move from Pell grant graduate to top 10%. I had assistance because I worked in an industry with above average pay, and I only had one loan to pay off over ten years. My new employer paid for my MBA and I didn’t have to take time off from work because I attended part time. Another big change for students today is the percentage of students that have financial aid packages vs. 30 years ago. I didn’t meet a lot of other students like me when I attended college. Now, the same university has several programs to support students that are first gen, heavy scholarship, etc. Some schools have figured out that these kids need to be supported after they arrive on campus. “fit” is important and I still feel very fortunate that no one seemed to judge me because I really didn’t fit for many reasons when I enrolled in this school. No one knew this before I showed up on campus except my room mate because she had my home address. It is totally different now because these kids tend to meet online as soon as they are accepted.

    I would have attended SUNY Binghamton if I didn’t receive enough financial aid from one of the private schools that accepted me. I probably still would have studied accounting and/or finance and ended up on a similar track. The big accounting firm and bank training programs opened a lot of doors for students like me. I wouldn’t have the same network that I have today, but I might have been employed by some of the same financial firms. My areas of interest were not as dependent on an elite degree, but my DH would say the opposite. He thinks his degrees from elite schools are worth every penny.

  38. some of it is about money and some of it is about rigor and some of it is about keeping the kids’ gpas on a fairly equal footing.

    And, like in any business, a lot of it is just poor customer service.

  39. “On the ‘known for’ idea that Austin brings up I point to Suny Maritime. Unless you’re from the NYC tri-state area or are in the Merchant/ship-running business you probably haven’t heard of it. But a couple of guys my kids’ ages went there…in-state public school…got their degrees and licenses/certifications to run an engine room or whatever on ships/boats, and landed jobs starting at ~$90-$100k/year.”

    I went through initial training with one of their alumnae who was a brand new employee of Bechtel, iirc. It’s obviously a good school, strong program, etc., but I would say that’s true of any accredited engineering program (and I’m not saying that’s ONLY true of engineering programs). The $90k-$100k for many new grads is probably accurate, but also reflecting an earnings premium due to long hours and weeks spent at sea.

    When my former college president retired, he went there to become its president. Then I believe he became the chancellor of the entire SUNY system.

    I’ve known people from there, from Merchant Marine Academy, Massachusetts Maritime, Maine Maritime. It all works out well. When we were in Bar Harbor and took the three-hour lighthouse tour cruise, the captain of the large power catamaran was a relatively young’ish Maine Maritime grad. That looked like the life.

  40. but also reflecting an earnings premium due to long hours and weeks spent at sea.

    And the Jones Act. But I guess that’s no different than being a doctor or a dentist where regulatory changes can change your career prospects vs. PAs and nurse practitioners and dental hygienists.

  41. “And the Jones Act.”

    Yeah. I was talking to someone recently about the cruise industry. A lot of former Coast Guard types will work for Royal Caribbean or Carnival in the corporate hierarchy, but you won’t find any of them actually on the ships.

  42. Rhode, an open thread is planned for Tuesday.

    “My areas of interest were not as dependent on an elite degree, but my DH would say the opposite. He thinks his degrees from elite schools are worth every penny.”

    So this gets down to the specifics that matter for each individual. We know about the investment banking and law jobs that require elite degrees, but in other cases it also matters. A young person I know was recently told his HSS degree was a factor in being called in for an interview and subsequent hiring for the job he recently started. This is his third job after graduation, all non-STEM. He’s a very smart person, but his HSS degree likely adds a confidence and cachet that matter.

    Catching up with some relatives over the holidays I got an update on a newly engaged couple with what I thought might be considered dream career plans, very reassuring to parents and no HSS degrees. He: a big data scientist (masters) whose lucrative new job for a big corporation could put him on track for substantial career growth. She: a nurse with a BS working on her advanced practice degree specializing in geriatric rehabilitation. When she went online for her job search last month she got multiple responses within an hour and offers within a few days. She can get a good job almost anywhere, and he should have many lucrative opportunities all over the country and the world after a few years of experience under his belt. Both took longer than expected to complete their degrees, with strong support from parents and of course with the smarts to complete the course work.

  43. As a landlubber I never knew about Merchant Marine Academy until a neighbor’s kid went. Free tuition, and is now making significant money working in the Gulf of Mexico supplying oil rigs. I can’t recall his on/off time but it might be like two weeks on, two weeks off. He lives in New Orleans and according to his father, is saving his money and thinking of moving to the Caribbean when he is gets tired of his current gig and wants to set down roots somewhere.

  44. Rhett – I’m not sure that was my point originally, but it’s a good one and I’ll be happy to own it.

    Related, I do know someone who talked themselves into a Harvey Mudd acceptance when they were 16 and didn’t have a hs diploma. Now he owns Yoga studios (or the moral equivalent.). Funny how it works out.

  45. “A young person I know was recently told his HSS degree was a factor in being called in for an interview and subsequent hiring for the job he recently started. This is his third job after graduation, all non-STEM.

    . . . I got an update on a newly engaged couple with what I thought might be considered dream career plans, very reassuring to parents and no HSS degrees.”

    IOW, a HSS degree is not necessary for most jobs, but it can make it a little easier to get through the door.

    (It reminds me of when I told one of my law profs that I made Law Review — his response: “Congratulations. You’ll never have to work again.” Not exactly true, but sure as hell helped getting interviews!)

  46. I only know one guy that graduated from SUNY Maritime. He is not an engineer, but he got involved with the business side. He started his career with an insurance company, but it was a niche product associated with shipping and marine stuff. His career progressed with different firms and it was all marine related underwriting. He is a SVP now with one of the largest insurance firms in the world. Owns a house in the burbs, a second home in the Hamptons house and a boat. This was a guy that closed bars almost every weekend at 4AM in NYC until he met his wife when he was 30.

  47. but it can make it a little easier to get through the door.

    I would add that it can make it a little easier to get in some doors and a little harder to get in others. You need to know what doors it will help you get into. But that’s true of any school/degree.

  48. The post has made me think about the non-financial benefits of a prestigious school, because the financial benefits matter most to people who highly value income.

    The knowledge that 96% of you, vs. a much lower percentage, will graduate has to be comforting. If you make friends, sharing in nonacademic activities with people who have similar interests/innate ability would be fun. If you have trouble making friends, because the social life revolves around activities you can’t afford, that would not be fun.

    The benefits of networking probably depend in part on geography and staying around other graduates of your school. My acquaintance with the MIT degree thinks it helped him minimally here, if at all, and he spent a couple years unemployed. (They wanted to stay near family)

    It would be really interesting to see the impact of geographic mobility vs. education. DH’s successful cousins are in successful in large part because they move for good opportunities, and their wives trail along.

  49. I just saw this in the online edition of the NYT. It looks like it will be published from the Sunday Styles section.

    SOCIAL Q’S: Our Daughter’s Rich Friends Are Driving Me Nuts
    2019-01-03 15:49:34.423 GMT

    By Philip Galanes

    (New York Times) — We let our daughter go to the college of her choice. She
    got into many state and private schools, some with scholarships. But no breaks
    at all from the expensive private college she selected. She loves it, and we
    can afford it, but it means constant sacrifice. She knows this, but it doesn’t
    stop her from regaling us with her friends’ pricey bling and fancy travel. I
    finally lost it when she ignored the care package I sent during exams, telling
    me about a friend’s new Cartier necklace instead. She texted: “I wasn’t asking
    for one.” I replied: “Please stop telling me about your rich friends’
    luxuries! I don’t want to hear about them.” What do we do?

    MOM

    One of the first lessons they teach at advice school is: Never tell an
    aggravated person to relax. (It just inflames the aggravation!) But it seems
    pretty natural to me that a young person encountering great wealth for the
    first time would be a little transfixed by it. I’m sorry your daughter was so
    breathless about her pal’s fancy necklace that she forgot to thank you for
    your care package. But this phase will probably pass.

    You may be creating an unfair connection between your financial sacrifice and
    your daughter’s behavior. She’s probably drawn to all kinds of unfamiliar
    people and things in her new environment (some of them 18 karat), and would be
    even if she were on full scholarship. You gave her free rein to choose a
    school. You shouldn’t resent her for the price tag now, or let it color your
    expectations of her behavior.

    What you can do is trust that you raised her well. Your daughter’s head may be
    turned by shiny things for a minute (or a semester), but life is long. And the
    values you taught her will likely count for more than secondhand tales of
    luxury hotels. Still, in the end, it’s her call whether to chase after bling
    or deeper fulfillment, right?

    Copyright 2019 The New York Times Company

  50. And the values you taught her will likely count for more than secondhand tales of
    luxury hotels.

    Harrumph! grumble grumble.

    Her daughter is getting a sense that there may be more to life than whatever lifestyle she grew up with. The mother seems to resent the implication that there is anything wrong with her lifestyle or level of success. That’s a terrible attitude to have.

    The goal should be exposure to all the varied paths and careers and levels of success so the daughter can choose the one that’s best for her.

  51. Interesting situation that reader is in, and something to be mindful. I do recall back in a college a friend of mine was noticing money missing from her wallet, and then started to see credit card charges she didn’t make. Turns out her college roommate was stealing money from her to buy clothes, afford dinner and drinks out with friends, etc. The only way to keep up with the Joneses was to steal from the Joneses.

    On my own front, we are going on a ski trip in February, and to Florida in March. My oldest was whining to me about how she wants to go to Florida in February because that is when it is most cold here and why is life so unfair. I’m afraid my discussion of you shouldn’t complain about vacations you don’t pay was in one ear out the other.

  52. I disagree with the answer to the question about the daughter at the fancy school. The issue here is basic politeness and civility, and daughter needs to learn it if she is going to be able to get along with lots of people. If your family sends you a care package, fricking THANK THEM. Politeness101. And learn to adjust your tone to your audience. When I went off to college and encountered crazy rich people for the first time, I often told my mom about them. She enjoyed it – BUT, I framed it in a way that was appropriate for my mother – sort of “You wouldn’t believe these rich people!”. We had lots of laughs over the rich foreign students with their private planes and designer wardrobes. And I never ever failed to thank her for the cute things she would sometimes mail to me because the fact she took the time to do it meant she cared.
    Even if daughter really covets the bling, she should be polite.

  53. The issue here is basic politeness and civility

    That’s not her mom’s main objection. Her main objection is to the inferred criticism and disappointment coming from her daughter.

  54. My guess is that if the daughter understood the basics of politeness, her mom wouldn’t feel that way.

  55. The issue here is basic politeness and civility

    True. Even if there is some truth to the criticism and disappointment, you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

    My response would be to just tell the daughter the truth. Every time you bring this up I take it as dissapointment in and criticism of me.

  56. Rhett – I’m with Mooshi here. Nobody, including the mother/letter writer, is suggesting that the daughter should not be exposed to the possibilities of wealth. The issue is how you relate the stories and experiences to others. You wouldn’t go to a normal wedding and tell the bride and groom (or even other guests) all about the super-extravagant wedding you were at a month earlier, with breathless details about the expensive service and elaborate venue.

    We all have a few boogey men that we tend to be on high alert for and eager to stamp out. Clearly one of yours has long been the phenomenon that parents often do not really want their kids to move significantly higher in socioeconomic status. But sometimes we’re to quick to jump on these things where it doesn’t exist, or it’s not the central issue.

  57. I don’t know — perhaps that mother and daughter deserve each other.

    If it requires “constant sacrifice” to send your kid to the high-end school, maybe you can’t really afford it after all. No wonder the kid is confused, because the mom is sending a very mixed message, of which the bottom line is that the name brand matters in this household. Mom’s real issue seems to be resentment of the rich friend, not the fact that she may have raised a spoiled brat who fails to acknowledge a gift.

  58. DD’s class was given a Math assignment and put in groups. They had to plan a vacation on a given budget. It was very detailed with airfare, hotel, meals and activities to be researched and priced out.
    At first they thought they had a big enough budget and planned on staying at the Ritz Carlton in Boston.
    But then they had to draw jobs and corresponding vacation budgets. Their group got nanny and the budget definitely didn’t allow for a stay at the Ritz Carlton. It was hilarious to me. They had to find a modest hotel and scale down activities to fit their budget. DD protested that the kids who drew Pro Athlete got a huge budget.

  59. Milo,

    Oh I agree. Some people are born knowing not to look a gift horse in the mouth and some people have to be told. Same with the kind of implied criticism that, as you said, is like regaling the bride with stories of the awesome wedding you just went to. Some know not to and some need to be told. The daughter may just need to be told.

  60. Rhett, Scarlett – I’m also sympathetic to the idea that relationships between parents and young adult children can be complicated by shifting roles that one party doesn’t perceive. I mentioned something like this a while back when it comes to friendly teasing.

    As it relates to this, imagine a family dynamic where the middle class parents (the letter writer) have always been very self-deprecating around their kids and shared a lot of inside family jokes about their messy house, inherited furniture, beat-up car, or whatever. And all through high school, the kids could play along and tease the parents about that.

    But now the daughter’s off at Harvard, and in her mind, she’s simply relating these experiences to her mom as she’s always done, almost in a conspiratorial way like Mooshi describes, but the mom is suddenly intimidated by it because she no longer sees her daughter, and the daughter’s situation the same way.

  61. “If it requires “constant sacrifice” to send your kid to the high-end school, maybe you can’t really afford it after all.”

    Are these schools “worth it” or not? Sacrifice is relative to the individual family, but $300k for a four-year degree is a hell of a lot of money even for affluent people. Even if you’ve got the means to save all that by the time they’re 18, presumably for two or three kids, that’s a huge monthly outlay for 18 years. I don’t think acknowledging that it’s a constant sacrifice is necessarily wrong. Now if you think it’s not worth the money in any case, then I’m totally sympathetic to that line of reasoning.

  62. It is hard to read “tone” in a text, that’s for sure, but it’s also much easier to bite one’s tongue, so to speak, and not lash out in frustration.

  63. When I read “no breaks from the expensive private college she selected” I didn’t think Harvard, but Skidmore like my niece’s choice over Clark. Probably the institution is somewhere in between. No idea whether the financial stretch is in the service of parental bragging rights, excellence of fit or academics, or merely adhering to a perhaps rash promise to let the girl choose regardless of cost. She was rude not to thank Mom for the Care Package (get off my lawn rant omitted about the very idea of exam care packages), and Mom should call her out on THAT. But that is not why the Mom submitted her complaint to the NYT or what is eating at her. We can’t really know the underlying reason or personal history involved.

    And all Rhett and I can say, it is possible for a person of modest background to gain both bling/travel/toys and meaningful or fulfilling work, whether the higher education was at clown college as he likes to call it or the Ivy League.

  64. I agree that official exam care packages are kind of weird, but even back in the dino era when I was in school, parents used to send treats and stuff every so often. My mother used to send me things with Kliban cats on them, or Edward Gorey motifs. She was always like that – later in life when I was living in an apartment, she sometimes sent me green beans or brussels sprouts from her garden via 2 day mail. It is just a nice thing to do. At Halloween, I sent my oldest a package with Halloween candy and a trick or treat bag for fun – and yes, he thanked me.

  65. “…or merely adhering to a perhaps rash promise to let the girl choose regardless of cost.”

    Judging from the experiences of people I know IRL, two phrases that should never be uttered in a family are:
    1) You can go to whatever college you can get into; and
    2) I would never put you in a memory unit.

  66. “2) I would never put you in a memory unit.”

    Ha. It’s pretty easy to break that promise, after all….

  67. The word sacrifice is most overused in the home country. Many home country parents use it to guilt their children into doing things the parents way which builds a lot of resentment.
    It’s common there for parents to say “we paid for your education, your wedding….” and then use the money as a leash.
    If a constant sacrifice was required then the better option perhaps would be to ask the kid to choose a cheaper college.

  68. “The mother seems to resent the implication that there is anything wrong with her lifestyle or level of success. That’s a terrible attitude to have.”

    This could be interpreted in two ways, but I agree that both of them aren’t good.

  69. “This doesn’t match up at all with the data I have seen on social mobility, which is measured as moving kids from low income families into middle class or higher income ranges. The elites generally do much worse on measures of social mobility than particular non-elites.”

    IMO, not all schools have, or should have, the same goals. Elite schools should, IMO, have a primary goal of educating academically elite kids, which would mean that the kids they move from low income families up the income ladder are limited to academically elite kids from low income families. Moving B- kids up the income ladder is outside of their scope.

    If any schools have social mobility as a primary goal, directional would seem to be schools one would expect to be in that group, but I’m not sure that even those schools should have social mobility as a primary goal. Perhaps those schools should have accessibility as a primary goal, and social mobility would be a byproduct of that.

  70. “I do recall back in a college a friend of mine was noticing money missing from her wallet, and then started to see credit card charges she didn’t make. Turns out her college roommate was stealing money from her to buy clothes, afford dinner and drinks out with friends, etc.”

    Did she report the thefts to the appropriate authorities?

  71. It’s surprising, listening to Dave Ramsey, how commonidentity theft and fraud are among family members. And people are often unwilling to make it a criminal case.

  72. Finn – I can’t remember exactly. I feel like it was because I vaguely recall her finding out when a store called her about a check bouncing. She had roomed “blind” so it wasn’t like there was any long term ties to the girl or her family.

    I’m not surprised at all about the lack of reporting of family/friends regarding identity theft. I don’t think most people want to air their dirty laundry.

  73. I don’t think most people want to air their dirty laundry.

    I don’t think it’s that it’s that they don’t want their family member to go to jail. If your father or brother or MIL stole your identity the credit card company will say, “We’re happy to resolve this but we’ll have to criminally prosecute your father, brother, MIL, etc.” Many people won’t take that step.

    Would you?

    For me it would depend on who and how much.

  74. We all have a few boogey men that we tend to be on high alert for and eager to stamp out. Clearly one of yours has long been the phenomenon that parents often do not really want their kids to move significantly higher in socioeconomic status. But sometimes we’re to quick to jump on these things where it doesn’t exist, or it’s not the central issue.

    Absolutely. We all have our trigger point and see things through the lenses of our own experiences. As the saying goes, and I believe Rhett has brought up the point as well, when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

    I don’t think it’s that it’s that they don’t want their family member to go to jail. If your father or brother or MIL stole your identity the credit card company will say, “We’re happy to resolve this but we’ll have to criminally prosecute your father, brother, MIL, etc.” Many people won’t take that step.

    Would you?

    Same as you, it would depend on who and what the circumstances were.

  75. “(get off my lawn rant omitted about the very idea of exam care packages”

    Some of you are a bit judgy on care packages, but I don’t think anyone said they’re required. I know other totebaggers send them, some quite elaborate.

    I had a roommate who stole stuff from me, but not money. If it had been substantial money I might have turned her in, or maybe just asked her rich father to reimburse me.

  76. There is an organization with some connection to the university that contacts parents around exam time with a care package offer. It is so easy for college kids to get whatever they want/need from Amazon, it’s hard to see the appeal of a generic “care package,” but evidently there is a market for that service.

  77. My grandmother sent me care packages when I was in college and they were big hits with my friends. They were homemade goodies that you would be able to get from Amazon today. They weren’t specifically for finals, just at random times during the year.

  78. DD’s school has the option of ordering care packages via their dining services. They didn’t seem all that appealing to me and I’d be more likely to use Amazon so I could get things DD really wanted. They do also have a birthday cake package and I might do that. Or see if I could order a cake at a local bakery and see if one of DD’s friends would be willing to pick it up and surprise her.

  79. SSM, rather than the university, you could have a cake/treats delivered from New Morning Bakery

  80. “There is an organization with some connection to the university that contacts parents around exam time with a care package offer.”
    Yes! I get constant ads sent to me for the one affiliated with my kid’s school. That is the thing I find weird – purchasing an overpriced, prepackaged care package. The whole point of sending little gifties to your kid is the personal touch. That is why I appreciated the odd things my mother sent.

  81. Sorry I missed the letter-to-NYT discussion (“Hi, mom? So I went to my makeup after-school club, but turns out there’s no activities bus today, can you come get me?”). My take is somewhat different: I think it’s the sense of entitlement. The mom is clearly interpreting the daughter’s comments as “gee, I wish *I* could have all that cool stuff” — which is probably exactly what the daughter is thinking (mine sure would be!), even if she knows it isn’t realistic. And that pisses the mom off, because she has worked hard all her life, and given up things that she herself wanted, to provide her daughter with a ton of stuff and great opportunities — such as the opportunity to go to an expensive school; meanwhile, the daughter seems to take all of that completely for granted, seems oblivious to how fortunate she is to have all that she does have, and instead is focused only on all of the other stuff that it would be really cool to have if she were even richer. I’d be pissed off too — it’s a fundamental “OMG, I’ve raised an entitled twit” moment. The daughter needs to stop vibrating with joy over the ShinyPretty long enough to tell her mom how grateful she is for everything she has been given and that she is conscious of her family’s sacrifices to do so.

    BTW, I was thinking of the “sacrifices” as “we skipped the big summer vacation, and I have to cook at home instead of getting takeout/going out all the time.” Not “I took on a second job and $200K in loans.” To start with, she says they can afford it, which doesn’t sound like really significant lifestyle changes were required — and all those expensive, top-notch schools give need-based aid, so if she got no such aid from the top choice, then by definition they *could* afford it. And at least from what I’ve seen, kids whose parents do really hard things to give them opportunities are highly conscious of that and usually pretty careful not to sound like they don’t appreciate it. This sounds more like a conversation that happens within UMC/UC NYT families, where kids really can grow up blithely oblivious to all of the advantages they have that others don’t (and moms and dads can be equally oblivious about what the term “constant sacrifice” means).

  82. My mom used to send care packages when I was at college – new warm socks when the weather changed, homemade cookies around V-day, a travel magazine (even then I was travel obsessed) she happened to see in the grocery line, that sort of thing. I really liked and it of course plan to do the same for our kiddos.

  83. because she has worked hard all her life

    We don’t know that. It’s quite possible she didn’t work all that hard and doesn’t like being called out on it. Both are equally plausible.

  84. kids really can grow up blithely oblivious to all of the advantages

    And the grass is always greener. If the parents were always working and college was paid for and they got a house as a wedding present, they’d complain that mom and dad weren’t around. If dad was a teacher and mom stayed at home they’d complain about how tight money always was.

  85. “basic politeness and civility” – yes. The first thing is to say thank you! Also, semi-related question: at what age do they stop whining/crying/saying “WHAT????” when you tell them what’s for dinner? It is getting on my last nerve!

    On topic, I loved my HSS. I had a full scholarship at the flagship state school (didn’t even have to apply, it was automatic with my NMF status) but didn’t consider staying in-state and going to school with a lot of the same people. I wanted to get OUT!

  86. LfB, it is entirely possible that the parents could afford to send their daughter to that school because sacrifices they made through the daughter’s life facilitated the building of a college fund large enough for that.

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