By Matthew Denhart
The Ivy League has a history and reputation of prestige. Graduation from one of these schools would surely bring career success -- right? A recent study done here at CCAP shows this may not be the case at all, and suggests there is still great hope for the rest of us at institutions of lesser prestige.
Piggy-backing off the Time Magazine article “Where the Fortune 50 CEOs Went to College” appearing in August of last year, CCAP has embarked on a similar but much deeper study of this topic. We tracked down the CEOs for the top 100 Fortune companies for the years 2006, 1980 and 1955. Together, this represents roughly three different generations of business leaders. From there, we researched where these CEOs completed their undergraduate and graduate work, in addition to levels and types of degrees obtained. Some striking results have been unearthed.
Historically, the Ivy League has produced a fair share of the top 100 business leaders. In 1955, 39 CEOs obtained a bachelors degree from an Ivy League School. Furthermore, 50 CEOs — half the total — attended their undergraduate years at a “prestigious” school—categorized as belonging to the top 25 US News and World Report 2007 college rankings. Thus, in 1955, (the first year Fortune magazine published its 500 list) the Ivy League and other highly prestigious schools were dominant in producing our nation’s top business leaders. But over time, the Ivy League has experienced a decline. By 1980, the number of CEOs attending undergraduate school at Ivy League institutions had fallen to 19, a 50 percent drop from the previous generation. Fewer CEOs attended the prestigious schools as well, with only 32 in 1980.
This trend away from the Ivy League as well as America’s “prestigious” universities continued into 2006. Of the top 100 Fortune CEOs of companies last year, only 12 did their undergraduate work at an Ivy institution and 20 at a prestigious school.
The presence of graduate schools in today’s educational system is a possible explanation for this decline. Graduate school attendance among the Fortune 100 CEOs has greatly increased over the past half century. For example, in 1955, only 17 CEOs attended graduate school. This number increased to 46 in 1980 and 61 in 2006. The number that attended Ivy graduate schools grew from 4 in 1955 to 16 in 1980 where it remained in 2006. This statistic remaining the same in the period from 1980 to 2006, despite increasing graduate school attendance, seems to further suggest the declining influence of the Ivy League—even among graduate schools.
It’s important to note that while the Ivy League has experienced this decline, America’s companies continue to perform as among the best (if not the best) in the world. Perhaps this suggests that an Ivy League or even “prestigious” education is not really necessary to be very successful in one’s business career.
Of course, this is only one attempt at measuring the output of universities and because we only examined business leaders, we are limited in scope. However it does at least suggest that the Ivy League has lost some of its importance in America’s educational system and that an education from a less prestigious – and less expensive – school may be just as well. Expect more on this issue in the coming days.
Matthew Denhart is a research assistant at CCAP, and an undergraduate student at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.