Friday, December 15, 2006

Is An Ivy League Education Worth It?

By Richard Vedder

In this space we have previously noted that an Ivy League education costs little or nothing more than one at good but not exalted quality universities. The tuition at Princeton is about the same as at, say, George Washington University (hereafter GW), which is not even ranked in the top 25 in the US News & World Report rankings. To be sure, a kid from an affluent family who is barely accepted at Princeton might be given huge merit based aid at George Washington, because being high school valedictorian and having a 1550 composite SAT score (minus the writing test) is an attribute prized by GW, while Princeton has more of these students than it can handle.

Indeed, the unlying premise of the great book by Dan Golden on admissions is that parents believe that by buying their kids way into elite schools, they are increasing their economic well-being. The country is run by Harvard graduates, and others from similar institutions,or so it is implicitly assumed.

Last August 21, Time magazine ran a story "Who Needs Harvard?" that made several interesting points. Only 7 of the CEOs heading the top 50 corporations on the Fortune 500 list are Ivy League graduates. Scholarly research shows that, other things equal, there are no particular advantages of attending the top schools. Maybe ranking 50 in a class of 2500 at GW is as good as ranking 700 in a class of 1500 at Harvard from a vocational perspecti

This is a proposition that deserving more investigation. The use of tax favored private monies to strengthen a network of social elitism (e.g., the Ivy League) is the subject of much attack these days, so the question is: is that network in fact strengthening or weakening over time? My hypothesis is that there has been some weakening in the dominance of the Ivy League schools amongst the CEOs of major companies, but not necessarily of elite private schools as a whole. I am going to be unleashing the Whiz Kids on a study of this issue in the New Year if not before.


I am informed by someone, I think George Leef, that in a new book I have been attacked as a polemic writer, along with others like Charles Sykes and Martin Anderson. It is interesting how modern academics often dismiss fact-based research (which my book Going Broke By Degree certanly was)that they do not like by engaging in name calling. I will be reading the new book, I hope, in coming weeks and may have more to say on this in the future.


Superdestroyer said...

I think you should divide career fields between normally distributed careers (those were the pay is distributed in a normal distribution) and those career fields that are long-normally distributed.

If you are going into a log-normal field such as investment banking or the law, you had better get yourself to the Ivy league. A graduate will have a tremendous advantage in getting a job with McKinsey is they have the Ivy degree.

However, if you want to be a dentist or a nurses, you are wasting your time paying ivy league (or Ivy like prices). No hospitals pays more to a nurse who went to Penn nor is a dentist reimbursed at a higher rate from insurance compaices because he went to Harvard Dental School.

David said...

The less measurable the field, the more important the credential. Ivy degrees are probably less important for CEOs because the path to CEO usually involves a succession of highly-measurable jobs.

Mike said...

I agree that an Ivy League education can only work to your advantage in certain fields, and will not make a difference in others. However, certain fields analyze the education you received and have a tendency to promote those who went to the Ivies. For example, Cornell's School of Hotel Administration is by far the best in the world, and graduates have found work opportunities in excess of other graduates. This specific example shows how the Ivies do help people get ahead. However, success is still a measure of personal integrity and work ethic, no matter how good your school was, it won't get you far if you are lazy.