How much does an elite college education really help grads?

“Desperate Housewives” actress Felicity Huffman pleaded guilty to charges brought against her in the college admissions scandal on Monday, just one of dozens of parents who have been charged with paying bribes and lying to have their children admitted to a number of elite higher education institutions.

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Prosecutors have said they would recommend four months in prison. The sentencing date is scheduled for September.

Huffman pleaded guilty to paying $15,000 to help boost her daughter’s SAT scores, part of a massive sting that has become known as “Operation Varsity Blues.”

FILE - In this April 3, 2019 file photo, actress Felicity Huffman arrives at federal court in Boston to face charges in a nationwide college admissions bribery scandal. In a court filing on Monday, April 8, 2019, Huffman agreed to plead guilty in the (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Another Chinese family is accused of paying $6.5 million to the scandal’s ring leader, Rick Singer, in order to have their child admitted to an elite college. Schools involved include the University of Southern California, Stanford, Yale and Georgetown – among others.

But just how much does a degree from one of the country’s most prestigious schools really help graduates?

Turns out the benefits could be big, depending on where parents fall on the income scale.

According to research from BBC, graduates who attended a top institution out-earned their peers who graduated from non-elite schools by their mid-30s across all income distributions – but the effects were specifically pronounced for the poorest Americans and the ultra-rich.

For the top 1 percent, graduates of less selective schools earn less than $80,000 annually by their mid-30s, compared with their Ivy League peers, who earn around $180,000.

For the poorest graduates, an Ivy League degree leads to earnings of more than $160,000 per year. A low-income graduate from a less selective school, for comparison, will earn about $40,000.

For middle-income Americans, Ivy League graduates will earn six-figures by the age of 34, but their peers who attended less selective schools make about $40,000.

Overall, Ivy League graduates across all income levels out-earned their peers, making around six-figures annually– and in some cases much more – by their mid-30s.

The study notes, however, that the differences may be less attributable to the school than to the qualities shared by admitted students.

Out of all the colleges involved in the college admissions scandal, only Yale and Stanford were considered Ivy League. The other schools, like Georgetown, University of California Los Angeles, were considered “other elite,” where the impact on future earnings was less noticeable.


The Department of Education reached a similar conclusion about the value of an Ivy League degree – finding that, 10 years after graduation, the median Ivy League graduate is earning more than the top 10 percent of graduates from other schools. Harvard students were found to have the highest median income.

Prosecutors have charged around 50 people over their alleged involvement with the college admissions scandal. Thirteen parents, in addition to Huffman, have said they would plead guilty. “Full House” actress Lori Loughlin and her fashion designer husband Mossimo Giannulli, are among those who are pushing back against the charges.