George Leef of the Martin Center offers helpful advice to prospective college students.

Many students come to regret their choice of college. They expect that getting a degree will mean a significant boost in their labor market prospects, but often their college “investment” fails to pay off.

That might be due to a lack of effort on the student’s part. Quite a few enroll in college mainly for the partying—the Beer and Circus, as professor Murray Sperber entitled his 2000 book. Others, however, do their best but still find that their college choice didn’t pay off. The school’s curriculum might have been ill-suited to the student’s abilities and goals, or perhaps the cost of attending was just too high for whatever advantages were gained.

The good news is that two recent reports issued by the American Enterprise Institute can help students avoid college decisions they’ll later regret.

The first of the two is entitled “Does Attending a More Selective College Equal a Bigger Paycheck?” Co-authored by Joseph Fuller and Frederick Hess, the report says that going to a more selective college will not necessarily result in a payoff after graduation.

Students are often advised to go to the most prestigious college they can, but that can be bad advice. …

… The other AEI study is entitled “Winners and Losers,” authored by Jorge Klor de Alva and Cody Christensen. Their interest is in how well higher education helps students achieve upward mobility. …

… Many students from low-income families do very well after college. This fact is a strong refutation of the often-heard claims that America has little income mobility—that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

The report’s finding also undermines the so-called “Chivas Regal” effect, namely the belief that colleges that cost a lot must be better.

Klor de Alva and Christensen write, “It is increasingly evident that there is no single recipe to generating strong mobility outcomes; indeed, some less-competitive institutions outperform highly competitive universities in the rate at which they move students from the bottom two income quintiles to the top two income quintiles.” In other words, higher college spending does not guarantee better student outcomes.