I had lunch not too long ago with a recently retired college president with whom I was discussing my own kid's plans on applying to college. After telling him about the various schools my kid was thinking of attending, he muttered, "Social Capital."
It took me a bit of time to fully process what he meant by the remark, even though it was obvious: Getting a degree is not just about, well, getting a degree, but also about the people you meet, the social network you create. And, obviously attending a first or second tier school is going to create more social capital than a third or fourth tier school. Put simply, the connections one makes at Harvard or Middlebury are very different than the ones a student makes at lesser known schools.
Of course no one wants to put "social capital" on the table when discussing higher education. Educators would rather talk about, well, education. But for the sake of our students and their future we should talk about it. And, we need to work on improving the social capital of our lesser known schools. And as for online for-profit schools, students should be mindful of these limitations before incurring big debt to obtain these degrees.