The economists found that the earnings of the two groups 20 years after graduation differed little or not at all. In a larger follow up study, released in 2011 and covering 19,000 college graduates, the economists reached a similar conclusion: Whether you went to University of Penn or Penn State, Williams College or Miami University of Ohio, job outcomes were unaffected in terms of earnings.
Earnings are only a part of the employment picture. Other measures, like job satisfaction or social value, are more difficult to quantify. In a thoughtful 2004 essay, the writer Gregg Easterbrook interviewed college officials throughout the country to assess these impacts. His conclusion: on a range of measures of job satisfaction, attendance at an elite college had little impact.
Forty years ago, elite colleges offered a demonstrably higher level of education. Today, as many as 200 colleges across the U.S. offer a similar level of education and have excellent faculty and facilities.