Attending Willamette is expensive; this is a fact of any private school, especially one with a sticker price of over $45,000. The average cost of a private university education is about $35,000, according to the Student Debt Relief website.
According to College Factual, a website that collects statistics from colleges around the world, almost 25 percent of first-years at WU have a familial income of over $110k per year. The student body is overwhelmingly middle-class and upper-middle-class. But just how privileged are WU students and how does our status as private school students affect our future prospects?
Dr. Gaetano DeLeonibus of the French Department offered some insight. Having attended both a state school for undergraduate and the prestigious Princeton University to complete his doctorate, he has a good understanding of how public schools and private schools are different.
“A [private] school is a good investment for a student,” DeLeonibus said. “Because there’s a guarantee of… a personal touch from the faculty, and the guarantee that one finishes in four years’ time.”
While public schools are cheaper year to year, it can also take longer — five or six years, in some cases — to graduate. That can hurt job prospects. An advantage to private schools is also the early jumping-off point students get into their careers, according to DeLeonibus.
“In general, and anecdotally, it’s likely that private school graduates have a better chance at the job market because of the type of network connections that you establish here… graduates from private schools tend to help each other,” he said.
Although there has been no statistical study done of the job prospects of private versus public school graduates, it’s a common stereotype that private school graduates form an exclusive network after college.
Mandy Devereux in Career Resources provided some helpful information on WU graduates in particular. “Because we’re a small campus, and because faculty are advisors, students here, as opposed to a big public university, have the opportunity to make very close connections with people,” she said.
Perhaps the inherent nature of a small student body is what works for private school students and creates such a close network, compared to larger public universities. The stereotype of a ‘boys’ club,’ so to speak, isn’t unfounded; private school students do have better networks within their own universities and they do tend to help one another after graduation. That, combined with Willamette’s four-year graduation rate, gives WU graduates a leg up over the public school graduate competition.
Devereux disagrees that private school status has anything to do with WU students’ future prospects. While Devereux reports that the number of students continuing on to graduate school is comparable between WU and the public school she worked at before, she concedes that the graduate school opportunities are not equal. “I will say that our students go to — and get accepted into — very prestigious graduate schools… students here are more typically getting into and applying for Harvard and Perdue and NYU,” she said. “I do think that has to do with the rigor of the education they feel prepared for.”
Another factor to consider is that WU students apply to prestigious graduate institutions in the first place. Public school graduates may feel as though they are behind their private school counterparts, and unintentionally set their expectations lower.
It’s a self-perpetuating cycle. People with lower incomes are more likely to attend public universities, move on to public graduate schools and end up in the workforce later and with lower salaries than the private-school students who started in a higher income bracket.
According to Career Resources’ statistics, WU students’ starting salaries right out of undergraduate are generally between $40,000 and $44,000 per year, which is about standard.
However, Devereux said, “On our admissions material, they talk about mid-career earnings upwards of the mid-$80’s to $90,000 a year,” which is a lot of money. Enough money, in fact, to put our children through private school as well.
WU students have a leg up on their competition from public schools specifically because of the status of the institution. Private school students are an elite club, one we belong to, and the inherent stereotypes and privileges that come with that club are not something WU students should ignore as they continue into their careers after college.