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Thread: Diminishing marginal returns to higher education?, or: Go to the better school and forget $$!

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    Diminishing marginal returns to higher education?, or: Go to the better school and forget $$!

    This is really a question, actually.

    I've had the good fortune to be admitted to a fantastic school. I've also been admitted to a less fantastic but significantly less expensive school. (UNC & Clemson)

    They haven't made their money decisions yet, but it'd be nearly impossible for UNC to be as utterly affordable as Clemson strives to be. I mean, it could be $4K total at Clemson (best case), where UNC could be $50K (worst case). That's a lot of money!

    Setting aside my particular interests and whatnot, would any of you argue that there's a huge benefit to a going to a fancy school? Did it help you in your career, did it earn you more $$, did it get you in the door, did it help you when you applied to PhD programs? Do you feel that there are intangible benefits, and the education was just so far superior that you'd never look back?

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    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
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    Congratulations on both accounts. This is a much discussed topic here. Most people here will tell you to take the path that gives you the least debt as long as the program is respectable. I think that is good advice, but the actual answer often depends on how much price difference there is, where your heart lies, and what you want to do afterward. If you want to work in local or regional urban planning, the name of the school is less important. If you want to go on to a PhD program or work for a consultant or internationally, the name matters more.

    As context, I chose the less expensive option but there was a huge price difference in my case. I can't say I have regretted it or that it seems to have limited my options, but I can't prove a negative, either. Good luck.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian
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    I was in a similar situation as you and went with Clemson. I couldn't justify the difference in price compared to other schools. I paid virtually nothing in tuition while at Clemson. The cost of living was very reasonable as well. I felt I got a good generalist education there and definitely don't regret my decision.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Masswich summed it up very well. I'll just add my personal experience - I also went to a more affordable state school for graduate planning edcuation. I do not feel it has hindered me either in the quality of education or in my employment prospects. My decisions were fueled by a few factors that may not impact you, though. I was older (so, less time to get that ROI if I paid the big bucks), had one kid and another on the way (so, local was better than moving for a program) and was not looking to be an academic or otherwise continue on to a PhD program.

    I think its important to realize that planning is not going to make any of us rich. Which is fine with me - its not my life plan anyway. But in terms of having the kind of cash flow to pay off those loans and meet other growing household needs, I felt personally it was not responsible to take on a larger debt burden to pay for a bigger name. As it was, I still took out student loans for three years to offset my wife's income, pay for tuition, etc. And I still ended up working PT and FT during the summers. But, my total student loan debt for that entire time exceeds your worst case scenario for just one yeat at the pricier school.

    Personally, I would only consider the bigger name if you were looking to take your studies beyond a Masters degree. But there are a lot of factors that go into the decision, so its not my place to tell you what to do. But maybe hearing a few peoples' experiences will be helpful.

    Good luck!
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

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    Thanks for all the input here!

    I think it's interesting to think about the value of education, totally aside from personal considerations. But just to give some context: I got my bachelor's in economics three years ago. At this point, I haven't ruled out the possibility of a PhD. Planning is a pretty new interest to me, but the direction I want to head for now is transportation policy, with an eye to developing corridors that promote occupational development. I suppose I want to have as many options as possible, so I could get out of a graduate program and do whatever seems most interesting then.

    I just turned 30, have no family, gay, am feeling a bit more wanderlust-bitten than normal, would be interested in consulting/internships/whatever especially in Sweden and France, currently in CO, no significant loans (but nothing in the way of assets, either).

    For my undergrad, I went to MSCD, here in Denver. It is a community college, but it was a great value for my money, and had a couple of great professors there who worked hard to champion students who showed more interest. So I had some great opportunities there that probably wouldn't have come up if I'd gone to a bigger university. Plus it was affordable enough that I could get out without loans. Going to a school that costs so much money would be a pretty big change in mindset. I suppose if I were to spend money at any point in my education, I'd be happier to do it later, though.

    And having visited all the schools--I would probably say that UNC is my first choice--I just wish it would cost less.

    Well, that's more detail than anyone wants! Hey, thanks for all your input!

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    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    You certainly didn't share too much. Its Cyburbia, afterall. Context matters. And only 30?! You've got a whole life of mistakes yet to make...

    Seriously, it sounds like you've got it pretty much together. Its just that decision about money that's leaving you hanging.

    I had one additional thought concerning making a decision about where to go. It strickes me that the other students you would be in school with can also have a significant impact on your experience. What are their planning-related interests? What kinds of programs, projects, internships, groups, outside interests are promoted or do students get into? My school (UNM Albuquerque - your neighbor to the south) has a listserv that, I believe, anyone can join and the kinds of things that get posted really give a good feeling of what other students are into and what kinds of opportunities (since you mentioned opportunities abroad) are promoted to and by students. I'm still on my old listserv as there are so many interesting things that come across (and I often forward interesting looking ones on to people I think would be interested). I used to be on a student planning listserv for Portland as well.

    So, just a thought for a way to get a feel of what the student culture of different programs are. That might give you another perspective.
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

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    Hey, neighbor! I'm a big fan of ABQ--trying to learn to play 'Albuquerque' (Neil Young) on the banjo, in fact. And thank you for making 30 sound a heckuva lot younger than it felt. Seriously, you should see how 27 year olds look at me now.

    That listserv advice is great. I've joined their LinkedIn groups and written to the listserv admins. Will post how it goes.

    To everyone who's replied here: Thanks for getting me to throw PhD and international considerations into the mix. That does make a bit of difference, I guess. What do all of you do, for your professions? Did any of you move far from where you went to school?

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    I'm not sure if you've made up your mind. I think the predicament is probably common. I'm facing a similar decision, with UNC/Georgia Tech on one side (higher cost, but bigger name) and U Minnesota (great scholarship, but less internationally known) on the other. I'm still thinking of a PhD like you, and the southeast works best for personal reasons. I was impressed at some of the internship and job opportunities the folks at UNC seemed to be getting, but I don't have other open houses yet to compare to.

    Best of luck figuring it out if you haven't already. This is the tough stuff.

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    Did you just go to UNC's open house? I had a really wretched SNAFU with my plane ticket and didn't manage to get out there. Merde.

    I've been admitted to Minnesota, too! I've been to the Humphrey School, and gotten to talk with some of the faculty. The faculty there were probably the most useful to me in terms of framing my search and being receptive to all of my questions.

    Still, I think UNC is probably my choice. It is more expensive, but it's probably less limiting in the long run. Besides--we've come this far. It's not that much further.

    Good luck to you too. If you wind up out there, my name's Adrienne. Feel free to look me up.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by evenfont View post
    Did you just go to UNC's open house? I had a really wretched SNAFU with my plane ticket and didn't manage to get out there. Merde.

    I've been admitted to Minnesota, too! I've been to the Humphrey School, and gotten to talk with some of the faculty. The faculty there were probably the most useful to me in terms of framing my search and being receptive to all of my questions.

    Still, I think UNC is probably my choice. It is more expensive, but it's probably less limiting in the long run. Besides--we've come this far. It's not that much further.

    Good luck to you too. If you wind up out there, my name's Adrienne. Feel free to look me up.
    The open house was very interesting, very well put together. I was struck by the sense of community at the school and seeming accessibility of the professors. I didn't make it to the U Minnesota open house, but I'm not surprised to hear it was friendly. I'm leaning towards Georgia Tech for personal as much as financial reasons, but I really love UNC. Bon courage!

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