By Richard Vedder, James Coleman, and Thomas Ruchti:
The Center for College Affordability and Productivity is embarking on a long range project to look at the relationship between college training and success in life. We will be seeking funds from outside sources to broaden and intensify our small, initial effort, but those efforts are providing some fascinating results.
We have taken a sample of 2,610 entries (about three percent of total entries) in Who's Who in America,2008 Edition. We asked the question: did these successful persons go to college? Where? Did they complete graduate or professional training?
We found that 93 percent of the sample graduated from college --college is becoming a necessary, but not sufficient, qualification for success. But is it important where you get your degree? The answer is a qualified "yes." Some schools have far more famous people (even adjusting for enrollments) than others. However, most famous Americans did not go to top schools, and the correlation between US News & World Report rankings and college success is far from perfect.
The graph below shows the 10 schools with the most Who's Who entrants. To be sure, five of the ten schools are in the Ivy League. Harvard is number one, but when correction is made for school enrollments (done in future reports), Princeton and Yale were about as well represented as Harvard. Four of the top 10 schools were public institutions. The University of Illinois is in the top five schools in number of famous Americans, but a mere 38th in the US News rankings. To be sure, the U. of I. is a big institution, and adjusting for enrollment they would fare less well. Nonetheless, the results comport with my own belief that the Big Ten public universities are very good relative to many private institutions (two of the top ten schools were in the Big Ten and Wisconsin just missed the list coming in at 11th).
Although much, much more work needs to be done, it appears that after you get beyond the top dozen or so schools in the US News and World Report rankings, the differences in the incidence of appearance in Who's Who are pretty small --the 100th ranked school does almost as well as the 40th ranked one. We still need to expand the sample, do some historical analysis (earlier editions of Who's Who, etc.), but the initial results are interesting and potentially provocative.