The median annual earnings for an Ivy League graduate 10 years after starting amount to well over $70,000 a year. For graduates of all other schools, the median is around $34,000. But things get really interesting at the top end of the income spectrum. The top 10 percent of Ivy League grads are earning $200,000 or more ten years after starting school. The top earners of other schools, on the other hand, are making just a hair under $70,000.
These numbers come from a first-of-its kind data release from the Department of Education. The dataset matches IRS earnings data to higher ed data for the first time, giving us the best possible look at how college graduates are doing financially in the years after they graduate.
The new numbers help to answer a fundamental question about American higher ed: is college worth it? By matching things like average student debt loads and graduation rates to future earnings potential, the numbers start to paint a picture of a typical student's return on investment at a given school.
As the chart above shows, Ivy League graduates fare quite well compared to graduates of other schools. So you can start to see why parents of a certain socio-economic class put such a high premium on getting their kids into the Ivies -- often to the point of extremity.
And there's considerable variation within the Ivies too -- below, I've charted the distribution for all 8 schools individually.
Harvard grads have the highest median earnings, as well as the most earnings potential -- the top 10 percent of Harvard grads are making upwards of $250,000 by the time they're 32. At the other end of the scale is Brown, whose top earners make a "paltry" $162,000.
But overall, is an Ivy League grad really worth twice as much to a typical company as somebody from a lesser school? That's doubtful. What you get out of college is typically a function of what you put into it, and that's as true at Penn State as it is at U. Penn.
And if you ever need to knock an Ivy League grad off their high horse, just remind them that Wal-Mart has a lower acceptance rate than their school.
Correction: The median earnings data is tracked 10 years after enrolling in school, not 10 years after graduating. This post has been updated throughout.