An investment is only as good as the goals you set for it.
Marketing guru Seth Godin recently posted a blog entry on the value of elite education. While I can see many of his points – it indebts families, doesnt’ necessarily lead to happier lives, has an unfair advantage over "good enough" educational institutions – I think he missed a fundamental concept. Education is an investment.
In any investment opportunity, whether it’s your participation in your company’s 401k, or the direct stock market, or real estate, you have to have a plan on what you want your investment to do. In education, if the student goes in looking to party, then that is what they will get out of the experience. That is not the fault of the intitution, unless it strongly encourages that.
Now if the student goes in looking to leverage the institution’s resources to learn how to generate massive amounts of cash or how to become entrepreneurial, then that experience will vary based on the institution’s ability to deliver that experience. Elite institutions have those resouces and can deliver.
I also went to Stanford University, as did Godin, and focused on broadening my cultural and educational experiences. I never took a business or economics course but I was a financial manager for a student-run educational program. I learned how to lead and how to dream but never saw a cash flow statement while I was there. Those were my choices. I can’t blame the University for not pushing me towards six-figure generating opportunities. It’s not the University’s fault I didn’t drop in on Jerry Yang and Dave Filo as they were building Yahoo! a couple of dorm houses down the road. Instead, I focused on tutoring, mentoring, and drinking impressive amounts of frat house brew. I set my educational goals and met them as I would with any other investment.