Live

Watch CBSN Live

Is there really a payoff in attending a top college? Actually, yes

The real payoff for grads of elite colleges
  • Graduates of the colleges caught up in the cheating scandal earn far more than the typical college grad over their careers
  • Yale grads earn a median annual salary of $135,400 at mid-career, and those from other top schools make well into six digits
  • By comparison, grads of more than 1,600 schools earn an average of $88,000 mid-career

Gaining admission to an elite college in the U.S. is widely regarded as a ticket to a better -- or at least richer -- life. There's some truth to that view: Income data show that grads of Ivy League institutions and other top schools tend to earn higher salaries, not to mention establish the kind of contacts that can make a career.

For some parents, that seemed like reason enough to cheat and bribe their kids' way into college.

The college admissions process has long been a source of stress for parents and their children, but the stakes may never have been higher than today. A college degree is not only increasingly valuable, but the competition to get into an Ivy or other elite university is tougher than in the past. Data from PayScale, a compensation-data site, shows grads from Ivy League schools and other elite colleges often earn more than other college grads. 

College admissions cheating scandal: Growing number of apologies, resignations

Grads from Yale -- a school targeted by the admissions scam -- earn median annual pay of $135,400 at mid-career, or 50 percent more than the average of all other college grads. And graduates of Georgetown and University of Southern California, which were also subjected to the scheme, earn median annual pay of $128,300 and $122,600, respectively. 

"This really speaks, more so, to how high stakes college admissions has become and what a status symbol it's become," Bari Norman, co-founder and director of counseling at Expert Admissions, a service that helps students get into college, told CBS This Morning. "The fact that admissions has become so competitive has led people astray."

One of the parents involved in the scam, Mossimo Giannulli, the husband of actress Lori Loughlin, complained in an email cited in the complaint that he wanted his daughter to have options other than Arizona State University, a college known in some circles as a less competitive "party school." Grads of ASU earn median pay of $98,900 at mid-career, less than the elite schools that were targeted by the scam. (Giannulli and Loughlin's daughter ended up at USC.)

The competition can be fierce. Almost 43,000 students applied to Harvard in 2017, but only 5 percent received an acceptance letter, one of the lowest admittance rates in the country. 

It may be no surprise, then, that some parents will try anything to win a coveted place at a top U.S. university, including donating legally to the college. Take President Trump's adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, who was accepted into Harvard shortly after his father, a wealthy real estate developer, pledged $2.5 million to the university, according to ProPublica.

Other parents go for lower-stakes methods, such as paying for test tutors and writing counselors, who help their students boost their SAT and ACT scores and write a well crafted admissions essay. 

And then there are the illegal methods revealed by federal law enforcement officials on Tuesday: outright bribery and test cheating. 

Rich-get-richer

Even though most parents don't resort to such methods, the admissions policies of top universities are increasingly coming under scrutiny, with critics pointing out that favoring wealthy families and well-connected donors creates a "rich-get-richer" phenomenon. 

So-called "legacy" students -- children of graduates of a particular school -- are given preferences at many colleges, creating a cycle of privilege. 

At the same time, many hard-working and talented kids who come from middle-class or poor families aren't given equal footing. As U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling said at the press conference to announce the charges against actress Felicity Huffman and other parents, admissions to elite colleges is a "zero sum game."

"For every student admitted through fraud, a genuine student was rejected," Lelling said.