Time is money, but so is a degree from an elite school.
That's usually what motivates the parents of high school students to go all out to get them into top-tier colleges.
The largest-ever admissions bribery case – which includes Yale, Stanford, Georgetown and Wake Forest universities and the University of Southern California – unfolded on Tuesday and rocked the country. Chatter ranged from the alleged involvement of actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Laughlin in the scandal to social media one-upmanship/one-downmanship with people posting where they did and didn't go to college.
But the bloodsport of gaining admission to a high-ranking college goes beyond prestige and car-window stickers, a.k.a. bragging rights. It comes down to one word: money.
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Graduating from big-name schools translates into better jobs and higher salaries, according to conventional wisdom. Plus, there are the auxiliary benefits that also lead to cash – powerful alumni networks, name recognition that attracts the interest of hiring managers and the right collegiate brand to catapult graduating seniors to top-notch graduate schools, which are themselves tickets to more money.
Colleges and universities conferred approximately 2 million bachelor's degrees in 2015-16, according to the most recent data from the Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics. Plus, they awarded more than 785,000 master's degrees and close to 178,000 doctorates.
"There's no question: If you get into a prestigious institution, it will create opportunities," said Lynn Pasquerella, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities. "It’s an elite, selective club."
Admissions scandal stems from money, prestige
An oft-quoted study from 2015 found that what you studied made a difference. If you're in liberal arts or business, the school counts, but that's not the case for someone in science, technology, engineering and math, also known as STEM. A decade after graduating, the biggest difference was among business majors; people who graduated from elite schools made an average of 12 percent more than students who earned their degrees at mid-tier schools and 18 percent more than graduates of less-selective and open-enrollment schools.
The road to better jobs is well trod from the brand-name schools. Recruiters return year after year because they know past hires from there have done well.
"Elite colleges get that advantage because recruiters tend to be from companies that pay more for prestigious positions," said Aviva Legatt, an Ardmore, Pennsylvania-based college admission consultant with as many as 50 clients every year, who declined to disclose her fees. "As a hiring manager, you might feel they have been pre-vetted by these colleges."
It's not just first jobs straight out of college. Later on in people's careers, head hunters still take note of job-seekers' alma maters. And that good first job leads to a second good job and with that better pay.
Good jobs, alumni connections, grad schools among the bounty
Alisa Levin, of the New York City-based legal-recruiting firm Greene-Levin-Snyder, said clients favor top-tier schools over local ones because those alumni have an "instant credibility" that graduates of non-exclusive institutions don't.
"Twenty-five years out, and they’ll still want to see transcripts. ... It's a forever thing," she said. "People want people who others want. If you've already won one race, you're more likely to win another."
Also important are alumni connections. The more esteemed the school, the more valuable the ties. Turning to fellow graduates for help – an introduction, a well-placed resume, an invitation to shmooze – keeps the cycle going from graduation gown to shroud.
"For every person you know in a field, that counts as much as submitting more than 150 resumes to an institution where you don't know anybody," said Pasquerella. "It’s hugely important to connecting... for their first job opportunities."
Levin called illustrious alumni networks "priceless," pointing out the powerful access they provide.
Not everyone believes an elite B.A. gets you from point A to point B, though.
Tony Carnevale, director of Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce, said that the advantages garnered from a top-tier school can disappear within four years of working and that getting a job through an alumni connection is "something that goes back to the Gilded Age" and long gone. Plus, does a public school teacher who went to Harvard make more than one who graduated from a state school?
"It's an aristocracy posing as a meritocracy; it’s more about Vanity Fair than Les Miserables," he said. "People spend tens of thousands of dollars to (send their children) to the right preschool because it’s a straight shot to Yale. The whole system is rigged in their favor."
Follow USA TODAY reporter Zlati Meyer on Twitter: @ZlatiMeyer
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College admissions scandal: Does attending an elite school mean you'll earn more money?