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Is an Ivy League education worth the money?

The debate over the long-term value of a pricey private-school education is heating up, especially in this tough economy. Sure, everyone knows that by sticker price alone, public schools are a sweet deal, with out-of-state tuition and fees that run about 30 percent less than most of their private rivals���and in-state fees running up to three-quarters less.

Indeed, the math is pretty jarring; the difference, on average, ranges between $7,700 and $18,600 a year, obviously no small matter with stock market woes depleting so many people’s savings. But in the back of everybody’s mind, there’s that nagging question: Is the extra money worth it?

To their credit, elite private schools do boast lower student-to-faculty ratios, fat endowments and name-brand cachet that, along with their active alumni networks, have long provided entr��e into the upper echelons of the working world.

But if long-term career and salary are what matters���and what else should, especially in today’s economy?���then a growing chorus of private-school critics point out that the public-school scenario may actually deliver a far better bang for your buck.

The SmartMoney Rankings

In a new twist on traditional college rankings, SmartMoney took a crack at quantifying the long-term value of a college education. Our goal was to spotlight the relationship between tuition costs and graduates’ earning power. Working with consultant PayScale.com, which recently published a groundbreaking survey on alumni salaries, we first looked at what graduates from 50 of the most expensive four-year colleges earn in their early and midcareers. Then we factored in their up-front tuition and fees. The result? A unique “payback” ratio for each school.

Publish date: May 30, 2009