How much better are elite schools than good schools?
Examples of elite schools are MIT, Cornell, and Carnegie Mellon, and typical good schools are University of Colorado Boulder, Purdue, Colorado School of Mines.
I went to “elite” schools for my education (Caltech, Princeton) and then was faculty at University Colorado Boulder.
I think an argument can be made for either being better, but you need to define “for whom”.
State schools are better for society. Places like Boulder have a mission to educate everyone in the state. Admissions are only slightly selective, and they try to keep tuition as low as possible (it would be easier to do so with more state support and less administrative bloat, though). As a native-born Coloradan, I’m glad that they’re doing that. I have family members who have graduated from CSU, Mines, and Boulder: they got a good education without breaking the family’s bank. These are good schools with excellent faculty, and they grow and change to meet the needs of the state.
While these schools could do better on some fronts (e.g., increasing the number of underrepresented minorities), they take in students from diverse socioeconomic, geographic, and cultural backgrounds.
Because of the resource crunch, many majors have “gate keeper” courses that explicitly try to discourage the unprepared from studying a subject.
Elite schools are better for highly-prepared students. By definition, you need to be a world class student to attend an elite institution. The students are better prepared, and most elite institutions also have big endowments and small classes. This has a couple of side-effects:
- professors don’t have to teach as much (you get better faculty, classes are smaller, and professors can spend more attention on students)
- fewer classes are taught by adjuncts and TAs: most classes are taught by world experts in the field
- classes move more quickly because students are better prepared and motivated
- the “core” curriculum is more thorough and challenging
As a result, courses spend less time reviewing material that “students should already know”. For example, at Caltech, everyone has to take calculus through differential equations (even literature majors). At Colorado, when one student asked a question about constrained optimization, other class members complained that I talked about gradients (which they weren’t required to learn in their calculus class): this prevents exploration of concepts that push boundaries.
Because the elite classes are smaller and more nimble, they’re able to be tailored to students’ interests. And because the students are uniformly excellent, things like group projects can turn into things like startup companies or research papers far more often.
If we only could have one kind of university, we should have state schools. But I think the American educational system is better served by a wide variety of institutions so that people can go to the one that fits them best (but I wish the US had better vocational schools).
Answered by Jordan Boyd-Graber on quora.com