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Education Programming The Almighty Buck

State Colleges May Offer Best ROI On Comp Sci Degrees 127

jfruh (300774) writes "PayScale has recently released a survey of various U.S. colleges and majors, and determined, perhaps unsurprisingly, that computer science graduates of elite colleges make the most money in post-graduate life. However, blogger Phil Johnson approached the problem in a different way, taking into account the amount students and their families need to pay in tuition, [and found] that the best return on investment in comp sci degrees often comes from top-tier public universities, which cost significantly less for in-state students but still offer great rewards in terms of salaries for grads."
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State Colleges May Offer Best ROI On Comp Sci Degrees

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  • by ErichTheRed ( 39327 ) on Tuesday April 01, 2014 @10:52AM (#46630337)

    If you're after a good solid education, state schools do offer the best ROI for undergrad studies. I went to one, and was able to (barely) pay for it myself with a small amount of student loans, summer work and a little savings. Undergraduate education, from a content perspective, is very similar everywhere. I have a chemistry degree, and almost all undergrad chemistry programs are the same -- 2 survey courses, 2 organic chem, 2 physical chem, 2 analytical chem, 4 or 5 different lab courses, 4 or 5 electives (which vary based on what the schools' professors are concentrating on.)

    The main differentiating factors I've noticed with private schools are the networking opportunities in and out of school, and the "cushy" factor. Even in a high tax state like New York, the state universities are pretty Spartan as far as accommodations go. Lately, states have been spending lavish sums trying to catch up in terms of sports facilities, etc. but they're still not a Harvard or Yale. Students going the state university route need to understand that they're going to get what they pay for, and likely be ahead of their private university peers in terms of raw dollars in debt when they get out. They need to be self-motivated and mature enough to handle their own affairs -- outside of class, everything at a state university is like dealing with a state agency. You're one student of thousands, and no one but you is going to care if you fail out. As far as opportunities go, private schools do give you a leg up. There are certain jobs you can't even hope to interview for such as white-shoe consulting firms or investment banking, who almost exclusively recruit from Ivy League schools. In my experience, this only applies to your first job or two, however. I've interviewed both public and private college grads, and there's an equal distribution of qualified people in each camp.

    Since tuition is going way up at both the public and private levels, students who don't already have the money saved really do need to do a cost-benefit analysis. I probably would have had a better experience at somewhere like MIT or Stanford, just because I would have been studying with more smart people. But, I didn't have the money for $100K+ tuition. Students need to stop and think whether the caché of a big name school offsets the huge expense. They need to think about things like:

    • - Do I want to go to medical or law school after undergrad?
    • - Do I ever want to work in investment banking?
    • - Will I be disappointed if I don't get to work at BCG, Bain, or Booz & Company?
    • - Do I want the opportunity to hang out with the children of corporate executives and make those "school ties" connections that public university students can't get?

    If the answer to any of these is "yes" and the student has a pot of money, they should go to private school. Otherwise, they should save their money. If a student is willing to hustle a little to get their first job, their accomplishments at that job and the connections they make will carry them through the rest of their careers. They probably won't reach stratospheric heights of corporate power, but talented students graduating with in-demand degrees can still do well.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 01, 2014 @11:06AM (#46630455)

    I teach CS at an almost Ivy school in the Philly area. I don't see any advantage to any one decent-enough CS school over any other beyond, perhaps, the contacts that might lead to one's first job. That said, determination trumps contacts. It's just not the deal that people make it out to be. Would much rather my kids get through school without 200k in debt to pay off. The logo on your diploma doesn't really matter to anybody who matters.

  • Re:Bullshit. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Tuesday April 01, 2014 @11:20AM (#46630599)

    Having worked with bosses, and been part of the hiring process... Those big college names mean very little. Perhaps an equivalent of 2 more years of experience.
    So we got Person A with 4 years experience and a State Degree and we got a Person with 2 years experience and a Ivy League Degree, then we will have a crap shoot. Just because of the difficulty of getting in the school means that this person has a good track record of working hard. But that is about it.
    However the real value of a good education isn't getting the job, but keeping and advancing in the job. If you know your stuff then you will advance, if you just an arrogant prick unless you truly mastered the art of BS and Networking (not common with people with just a CS degree) then you will probably stay at your position while others work up.

  • by ranton ( 36917 ) on Tuesday April 01, 2014 @11:51AM (#46630859)

    You don't have to be a finance major to understand that the calculations were flawed. They only count the amount spent on tuition. They don't count the cost of your human capital and the opportunity costs involved. Investing in yourself is not like investing in the stock market because you only have one life to invest in. So you cannot just compare the difference in tuition between a state school and Stanford because you are also giving up a portion of your young life to your educational pursuits.

    Their highest 20 year net ROI/yr school was University of Virginia, but they only returned $1.3 million in total. Stanford returned $1.7 million. So even though the annual ROI was greater at the University of Virginia, you are still leaving $400k on the table by not choosing Stanford. And considering you can borrow money at 6.8% interest, it only costs you $90k more after interest to go to Stanford instead of the University of Virginia (if the loans are paid over a 20 year period).

    So the only correct calculation is that going to Stanford will net you an extra $300k versus going to the University of Virginia (obviously this is not a very precise calculation though).

  • by cplusplus ( 782679 ) on Tuesday April 01, 2014 @12:02PM (#46630979) Journal
    ...what you put in to it. I went to a local state university for CS, and I studied hard and did well in school. Four years later I had my BS in CS in hand having paid less than $15K in tuition (and that wasn't all that long ago). I got a job locally with the help of referrals by professors who had good working relationships with many of the local tech employers. In short, my entire education was a helluva bargain, and helped launch my career.
  • In my day... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 01, 2014 @12:09PM (#46631061)

    I pity today's college student burdened with obscene tuition. When I decided to go back to school (because of a non-existant social life) my choices were pretty open - I had good undergrad grades and a mind-blowing GRE. Tuition/fees at UT Austin c. 1970 was under $700 a *year* and I rented a quite decent duplex for $135 a month. Planning to spend most of my time chasing coeds, I opted for a not-so-high-pressure state school over an expensive, high-pressure, prestige school. Never regretted it - chasing coeds was great fun until one caught me and I had to finish my PhD. But I came out w/o any debt and I'm still head-over-heels crazy about that girl.

    Alas such school fun is no longer possible, both tuition and academic pressure is now obscene at UT. It's today's students who have to walk 5 miles in the snow to school, uphill both ways. Damn, but I wish they could share my lawn.

The rich get rich, and the poor get poorer. The haves get more, the have-nots die.