Is the cost of big name schools worth it?

 My fraternity email list recently had a short debate on the future or higher ed, online ed, who goes to college and whether it’s worth the cost.  This post contains two of the mails that I wrote as part of that:   I have a kid now (cutest baby ever. A year and 3 months). Will I be willing to pay for her to go to college at an expensive big name school. Probably not.  Would I have gotten an education somewhere else like the one I got at MIT? Probably not. Was MIT worth it for me? Absolutely. (easy to say, since I got a lot of aid)  What was the difference for me? I think it comes down to motivation. I was motivated enough to apply and do what I needed to get in, but I didn’t have a lot of discipline. In high school, I could punt on most of my homework because the rest of the class didn’t do it either. By doing some of the homework, I knew the teacher had to either give me an A or fail the rest of the class.  Not so at MIT. For every problem set, I knew that most of the class was doing most of the homework. I either had to focus or flunk out. Living in this environment for 4 years changed my work habits.  That was benefit #1 for me, but there were others. Being in a place with so much buzz of excitement was awesome. Being in a place were being good at math was normal made me feel normal. It reset my outlook on what normal should be. (I realize that our definition of normal is anything but)  So why wouldn’t I pay for Lydia to go to an expensive school, even one that may actually be worth it? (most universities are expensive but don’t offer the big name) I think that MIT is probably a waste for half of the folks that went/go there. Those that hardly went to class… why are they at MIT? Why study in a place that’s so specialized if you’ve not passionate about what you’re learning?  At the time, I took the HASS classes only because I had to to graduate. 3 of those were spent taking German, I language I already spoke. I don’t regret that at all. I’ve filled in the “well-rounded” blanks since then and know more about the world than most.  So is MIT just the Harvard of Devry. No. Trade schools teach useful skills. When I was at the Tute, you had to go to course 1 to take a C class. I haven’t used CLU or scheme since graduation. What I have used is my knowledge of how compilers work? Why O(n^3) is a big deal? Anonymous functions. What’s a pointer really? What it can really mean to set a high bar. I had access to big wigs. I did a UROP for Ron Rivest. If you’ve bought something online, he’s touched your life. I went to office hours taught by some of the best people in their fields.  Had I just taking MIT classes online, it would not have been as good of an experience. I would not have had the focus. Would not have learned the drive. My bar would be lower.  If Lydia convinces me that she’s truly passionate about something, I’ll find a way to pay for whatever environment is most appropriate for that passion. Otherwise, I’ll save my money. There are cheaper ways to drink a lot and play video games.  If online experiences can find a way to spark the drive to succeed, they’ll have a winner. If they can find a way to open a new world to students, even better.  Some fun videos from the MIT EC newletter: Miles       One of the guys replied that he thinks it’s sad that I don’t have high expectations for Lydia. >”drink a lot and play video games”?  Very strange that I would have >higher expectations of Lydia than Miles seems to have for his own >daughter!   <other stuff deleted>   Here is my retort: In addition to my young daughter, I also have my 16 year old niece living with us. This experience has shown that expecting something doesn’t make it so. I will encourage Lydia in every way that I can. I will try to impart every wisdom available to me. I will expose her to the wondrous things the world has to offer. It will be up to her to take advantage of those opportunities.  Lydia will know that going to a big name school is nothing if the passion is not behind it. She’ll go to a school for reasons other than name dropping. She will know that the value of college goes well beyond the price of tuition.  The high expectation I will set for her is that whatever she does, she should make it count.  The parents of many of our MIT peers did not set this expectation and it was apparent in the amount of drinking and video game playing that went on. I drank a fair bit, but I also went to my classes. I did my homework. I followed my dreams. I feel fortunate to have known my MIT cohorts and our PKT brothers in particular, but I feel that many would have been happier at another school or perhaps not in a normal university at all. Think of the folks who barely graduated. Were they not as smart? They were plenty smart, they were just in the wrong place.  Going to a school like ours costs $200k now when all is said and done. Ballpark correct? “well, of course we will spare no expense.” I don’t think so. Not blindly.  I have a bunch of folks in my family that have taken non-traditional routes. Drop out of high school early, do the community college thing while figuring it out. Work in the peace corp. Travel the world for a bit. Military service.  For most people going a prestigious school is not the best way to spend $200k. Lydia won’t “need” that to be successful. If it’s a clear part of what where her spirit is driving her, then I’ll eat ramen to make it happen.  I have high expectations for her. Going to a prestigious school so her dad can put a sticker on is car is not one of them.  As I think Dale used to say, maybe it was Dan. Andrei can put that in his pipe and smoke it.  I think I’ll stop playing video games AKA writing too much personal mail. Gotta do some work.   Miles   I love Lydia very much. I hope I manage to teach her the real value of things.