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Jewish World Review Dec. 23,1999 /14 Teves, 5760

Thomas Sowell

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Wasting money on ivy? -- BEFORE YOU TAKE OUT a second mortgage on your home, in order to pay for your son or daughter to go to some pricey Ivy League college, you might want to get a copy of a recent study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

According to that study, young men with combined SAT scores of 1200 who entered colleges whose average SAT scores were at that same level had achieved an average annual income of $93,000 twenty years later. However, young men with that same SAT level who entered colleges whose average scores were 200 points lower, also ended up averaging $93,000 in annual income. In other words, it is not the school but the student. Harvard turns out some very smart people because Harvard takes in some very smart people -- and it cannot reduce their intelligence in four years. But whether that is enough to mortgage the homestead for is another question.

Income isn't everything. But, if you are interested in scholarship, for example, you might want to check out the fact that more than twice as high a percentage of graduates of Harvey Mudd College go on to get Ph.D.s as the graduates of Harvard. You might want to check out the fact that a higher percentage of the alumni of little Cornell College in Iowa end up in "Who's Who in America" than do the alumni of Cornell University.

Some of the leading universities in the country, as far as the number and prestige of their Ph.D.s are concerned, have relatively small percentages of their own undergraduates going on to get Ph.D.s. That is because many big-name research universities like the University of California at Berkeley give much less attention to the education of undergraduates than do some small liberal arts colleges which specialize in teaching.

Do not expect some scientist who is trying for a Nobel Prize to worry about whether your child understands calculus. When you are paying big bucks for a big name, that does not mean that you are paying for a better education or for greater financial success for your child or for anything else that will do your son or daughter some good in later life.

Before selecting any college, parents ought to go visit the scene. Sometimes what you see and hear will be enough to turn your stomach and make you scratch some very big-name colleges off your list. Some are places where it is all too easy to pick up a drug habit or diseases that can last a lifetime.

Incidentally, don't let smug people in your child's high school or in college admissions offices tell you that it is your child's decision to make. If it is your money, it is your decision. Those smug people will not lose a dime or a single night's sleep over what happens to your child. There are prestigious colleges and universities where your son or daughter can graduate without ever having taken a single course in mathematics, history, science, English or economics. There may be fine courses available in all these subjects, but there may also be nothing in the curriculum to require students to take such courses. Many colleges are like a cafeteria where you can get either steak and potatoes or junk food.

There are usually lots of junk food courses at even the most prestigious -- and expensive -- colleges and universities. Counter-cultural drivel has become the norm in many English departments, as well as in ethnic studies, women's studies and environmentalist hysteria courses. Your child can graduate with a glitzy diploma but essentially ignorant or -- worse yet -- misinformed.

Some colleges still have a curriculum, but you will have to look for them. One place to start looking is in a couple of college guides called "Choosing the Right College" and "The National Review College Guide."

In addition to checking out whether a college has a real curriculum or just a cafeteria of courses, these guides also tell you whether a particular institution puts ideological indoctrination ahead of conveying knowledge and teaching students to think for themselves. Most college guides do not do this, so it is worth the extra trouble to ask your local bookstore to order these two for you if it doesn't have them in stock.

What your child needs is a solid education. But don't waste your hard-earned money on ivy. Be very sure of what you are getting before taking out a second mortgage or otherwise putting your family under a financial strain for a glitzy illusion.

JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author, most recently, of The Quest for Cosmic Justice.


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©1999, Creators Syndicate