Overvaluing Harvard

Many parents went to send their children to what they consider to be the best colleges and universities. For quite a few of these families, this means that Junior should go to fair Harvard (after all, it’s the top-rated university by U.S. News and World Report). But few families are willing to go as far as Gerald and Lily Chow of Hong Kong.

An article in the Boston Globe tells the sad saga of the Chow family and how they got duped out of $2.2 million by a former Harvard professor who claimed to be able to get the family’s two sons into the university. The family filed suit against defendant Mark Zimmy’s company after claiming fraud after their children did not get accepted there (although they did get into other elite colleges). Zimmy’s website is still active and targets Chinese students, many of whom have little knowledge of the American educational system. Needless to say, I am interested in how this case proceeds through the legal system.

I am pretty familiar with the academic literature studying the returns to attending a prestigious college. Although there are possibly some additional benefits of attending a more prestigious college to students from disadvantaged backgrounds, the literature is quite clear that the typical student should not expect to benefit by over one million dollars for attending Harvard compared to a slightly less prestigious college. It’s safe to say that the Chow family was likely going to waste their money, even if Mr. Zimmy was able to get their children into Harvard.

Author: Robert

I am an a professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville who studies higher education finance, accountability policies and practices, and student financial aid. All opinions expressed here are my own.

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