Sunday, March 19, 2006

Is Harvard Worth It?

On Tuesday, we will discuss whether or not attending Harvard is worth the costs. Post your thoughts and reasoning in the comments.

A "traditional" economists analysis of this issue would fairly straightforward. To answer the question of "is Harvard worth it," the most basic procedure would compare on one hand the tuition, opportunity cost (solely in terms of work experience) to the expected payoff, that is the expected increase in future earnings.

But of course the situation is more complicated than just those factors. One could consider a multitude of social factors which influence the situation, depending on how cynical one wishes to be (ie how highly you rank the educational value of attending Harvard). Some costs specific to Harvard include: increased work (although this is debatable), personality factors, etc. One of the most obvious benefits of Harvard is the social status aspect, although some may view that as more of a cost than a benefit.

Personally, place a high value on education at Harvard. Perhaps I'm naiive, but I do believe that one can be exposed to a multitude of enriching experiences here, if he so chooses. I also believe that the person plays a large role, so if he is not happy at Harvard, he probably won't be happy anywhere else either. Adding to this the benefit of Harvard's reputation, I do believe it's worth it. I'm here, after all.
First, I think this question needs to be refined. "Is Harvard worth it"--compared to what? When compared to any other private university (even Georgetown), Harvard is certainly worth it since they all cost about the same amount (and the returns of going to Harvard are most likely higher). When compared to going directly into the work force, Harvard is most likely a better option. In economic terms, attending Harvard is an investment with tremendous returns in terms of social and human capital. From a psychological and philosophical point of view, there is a great deal of growth that one experiences from being in an environment like Harvard. Compared to a public university--now that is an interesting question. I think comparing attending Harvard to say UC Berkeley would be a good way to isolate the aspects of social capital that one gains from attending Harvard. Under the assumption that both schools provide an equal education (one that may be possible on the undergraduate level--though perhaps not), we could compare the lives of Cal and Harvard grads. There are several issues that complicate this, including self-selection. Many who go to Harvard may likely begin with more resources (financial and social). I'm not sure if you are just asking about the economic benefits of attending Harvard...but I'm guessing that since this is not a philosophy or psych tutorial we are supposed to focus on the returns on investment...
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