Lori Falce: Dr. Phil’s Slippery Rock mistake is about labels
How important is the school name on your diploma?
For some, it might be worth a lot more than the paper it’s printed on.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the graduates picking up diplomas this weekend started their freshman years paying about $17,000 for a year at a public school. Go to a private school and that jumps up to about $40,000 annually. Spend a year at Harvard, the brass ring of U.S. universities, and you’re looking at about $67,000.
Some of the difference is the programs and professors. If you want to study nuclear engineering, Penn State and its on-campus reactor are probably going to be on your short list. If you plan on building robots to send into space, Carnegie Mellon is definitely going to get a campus visit.
But too often families are buying — and universities are selling — something else. The networking. The future. The prestige.
The problem is that none of that is a guarantee. Spend four years and check off all your boxes, you leave with a degree. It’s the world’s most expensive vending machine. But you can’t depend on anyone caring enough about where your degree came from to justify the price tag.
That makes the college cheating scandal all the more ridiculous. Especially for rich kids with rich parents who are probably not going to be scrambling for an entry-level position. I mean, if Mom can write a check to get you on the USC crew admissions list, she could probably pull some strings to get you a job somewhere, too. (And actress Lori Loughlin’s other daughter, Isabella, the one who isn’t a social media influencer, indeed was in several of her mother’s Hallmark movies.)
“I think it’s bragging rights for them and they don’t want to be the one parent that says, ‘Well, yeah, my kid’s going to, like, Slippery Rock,’ ” pop-psychology talk show host Dr. Phil McGraw said in an interview.
He’s right, of course. The super-rich parents who paid exorbitant amounts to get their super-rich children into schools like the University of Texas — where McGraw’s son Jay studied psychology — would never have wanted to admit that their children didn’t go to school somewhere that glittered.
But that reduces the value of the school rather than do what it should, reduce the falsely inflated cachet of certain schools as designer labels rather than educational institutions.
Maybe we could reduce our student loan problem in part by embracing our backyard institutions as viable, venerable options and making sure our kids understand that they are making a long-term investment, not planning a four-year vacation at an all-inclusive resort.
Lori Falce is a Tribune-Review community engagement editor. You can contact Lori at [email protected].