Ivy League

Dear readers,

A few weeks ago (3/18/15, A24) the New York Times had a lot of letters responding to Frank Bruni’s excellent piece (3/15 column) on admissions to prestigious colleges. Most were on “my side” and Bruni’s—skeptics about value-added.

I was intrigued by his claim that the children of Fortune 500 company heads were not largely graduates of Ivy league schools. I am glad to hear that is still true. It was 30 years ago I know. That is a good sign that we might pull out of what appears to be a dreary future if we only focused on the right things—not on getting in to Harvard.

But that is mostly because there are not enough Ivies for all the high-earners. Some make it going elsewhere. Does it hurt their futures? Bruni thinks not. Probably some of these rich losers end up at Ivy-league grad schools. In any case they will not be unemployed. And, probably, it is true that for poor kids, and kids of color, the Harvard/Yale/Princeton badge get many more interviews and probably jobs. But the number are small.

So, imagine again. Suppose Harvard started taking in mostly kids of color and those from poor families. Would that soon even up the future earnings and job status of Black and white, rich and poor kids? Especially if all the most prestigious schools—even the top non-Ivies—did the same? Or would it merely create a different pecking order of what constituted a top-notch school?

Or suppose 100% of all students got BAs, does that mean that the statistically significant economic advantage that comes with having a BA would rise, fall, or stay the same? Or if all got MAs? And supposing that it could be demonstrated that they hadn’t lowered “standards” to achieve these results?   Would every additional BA or MA create an additional well paying job? Is that just the way the market place works?


3 Responses

  1. Great questions. Is there any research to help answer your questions?

  2. From my reading in that area, in developing countries raising in educational level of the population does help the economy. But in Developed countries, The cause effect is more the other direction. The economy and work force needs is what stimulate educational levels.

  3. There is difference between the reputation of any school, real-world achievement of lasting value, markets and the logic of zero-sum games,or stack ratings with cut scores for some combination of performance and reputation. Any fairly consistent alignment between reputation and achievement produces a big halo effect. The job of the institution is to keep that going. The Ivy’s know how to do that, and across generations. They also know what to do with Andy Warhol’s rule “Fame is a function of publicity.” (A hip version of Campbell’s law).

    The economy of any nation is shaped by a number of factors, including trustworthy institutions–legal, banking-governing. Arguably some of the best and brightest from the Ivy league colleges helped tank the economy, and also have more Nobel prizes (even in economics) than could stop the fraud, waste, and abuse of eager beavers as skilled in their work as those at ENRON. The OECD downgraded the US on economic competitiveness.. Disfunctional governance and failure of financial regulation were major reasons.

    If you want to see some great stats on the bearing of education and other “resources” on the economy, go to TED and look at the visuals over time created by Hans Rosling. For a more mundane but sobering look at the data on labor markets, education, and job insecurity see http://www.bls.gov/news.release/nlsoy.nr0.htm

    For the value of a liberal arts degree–much maligned by policy makers who think universities should be job factories–see https://www.aacu.org/press/press-releases/new-report-documents-liberal-arts-disciplines-prepare-graduates-long-term

    Finally, if you want to know the economic worth of preschool for NYC, in 2013-2014, it is about $50,650. Look for Robinhood Foundation metrics.

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