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College and Path Determination in American Economic Life

In “The Myth of American Meritocracy,” Ron Unz argues that we shouldn’t be surprised by large cheating scandals at Harvard and other elite universities.

In the last generation or two, the funnel of opportunity in American society has drastically narrowed, with a greater and greater proportion of our financial, media, business, and political elites being drawn from a relatively small number of our leading universities, together with their professional schools. The rise of a Henry Ford, from farm boy mechanic to world business tycoon, seems virtually impossible today, as even America’s most successful college dropouts such as Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg often turn out to be extremely well-connected former Harvard students. Indeed, the early success of Facebook was largely due to the powerful imprimatur it enjoyed from its exclusive availability first only at Harvard and later restricted to just the Ivy League.

[...]

[T]his situation, sometimes described as a “winner take all society,” leaves families desperate to maximize the chances that their children will reach the winners’ circle, rather than risk failure and poverty or even merely a spot in the rapidly deteriorating middle class. And the best single means of becoming such an economic winner is to gain admission to a top university, which provides an easy ticket to the wealth of Wall Street or similar venues, whose leading firms increasingly restrict their hiring to graduates of the Ivy League or a tiny handful of other top colleges.3 On the other side, finance remains the favored employment choice for Harvard, Yale or Princeton students after the diplomas are handed out.4

As a direct consequence, the war over college admissions has become astonishingly fierce, with many middle- or upper-middle class families investing quantities of time and money that would have seemed unimaginable a generation or more ago, leading to an all-against-all arms race that immiserates the student and exhausts the parents. The absurd parental efforts of an Amy Chua, as recounted in her 2010 bestseller Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, were simply a much more extreme version of widespread behavior among her peer-group, which is why her story resonated so deeply among our educated elites. Over the last thirty years, America’s test-prep companies have grown from almost nothing into a $5 billion annual industry, allowing the affluent to provide an admissions edge to their less able children. Similarly, the enormous annual tuition of $35,000 charged by elite private schools such as Dalton or Exeter is less for a superior high school education than for the hope of a greatly increased chance to enter the Ivy League.5 Many New York City parents even go to enormous efforts to enroll their children in the best possible pre-Kindergarten program, seeking early placement on the educational conveyer belt which eventually leads to Harvard.6 Others cut corners in a more direct fashion, as revealed in the huge SAT cheating rings recently uncovered in affluent New York suburbs, in which students were paid thousands of dollars to take SAT exams for their wealthier but dimmer classmates.7

But given such massive social and economic value now concentrated in a Harvard or Yale degree, the tiny handful of elite admissions gatekeepers enjoy enormous, almost unprecedented power to shape the leadership of our society by allocating their supply of thick envelopes. Even billionaires, media barons, and U.S. Senators may weigh their words and actions more carefully as their children approach college age. And if such power is used to select our future elites in a corrupt manner, perhaps the inevitable result is the selection of corrupt elites, with terrible consequences for America. Thus, the huge Harvard cheating scandal, and perhaps also the endless series of financial, business, and political scandals which have rocked our country over the last decade or more, even while our national economy has stagnated.

Now, I’m not sure that Unz connects the dots on this larger point with anything more than conjecture and innuendo. He presents no evidence that Ivy League graduates are more prone to cheating than others and, certainly, there are plenty of incentives for corner cutting. But the smaller point–the degree to which winning slots at a handful of elite institutions as a teenager has become the primary path to the top, with the enormous path determination that implies–is itself rather amazing.

It is, of course, possible to be quite successful in American life without a degree from an elite university. In many fields, it’s probably not even all that big an advantage to have gone to Harvard or Stanford. In a handful of prestige fields, though–politics, law, academia, the news media, and large parts of the entertainment business—it’s virtually impossible to rise to the top without having punched one’s ticket at an elite school very early in life.  Ronald Reagan was the last president not to have an Ivy League degree.  Almost every Supreme Court Justice in modern times have gone to Harvard, Yale, Columbia, or Stanford. And while it’s possible to rise to the top in American media, entertainment, and academic circles without a prestige degree, it’s infinitely easier with one.

That wouldn’t inherently be a bad thing if our best and brightest were being funneled into our best schools. Certainly, many of them are. But, as Unz argues, it’s also true that mediocre students whose parents are particularly rich and well connected can rig the game. Beyond that, even in sorting among the best students, those whose parents have the wherewithal to get them into the best preschools, prep schools, and test prep programs have a substantial advantage over their peers having to claw through the system on their own initiative.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. george says:

    And while it’s possible to rise to the top in American media, entertainment, and academic circles without a prestige degree, it’s infinitely easier with one.

    I agree with the statement, except for entertainment. My guess is that almost none of the top level entertainers (actors and musicians in any case) have prestigious degrees, and I suspect quite a few have no degrees at all.

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  2. James Joyner says:

    @george: I don’t mean actors and stand-ups, although plenty of them do indeed go to great schools, but rather behind-the-scenes types: writers, producers, studio and network executives, and the like.

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  3. Mikey says:

    And if such power is used to select our future elites in a corrupt manner, perhaps the inevitable result is the selection of corrupt elites, with terrible consequences for America.

    This isn’t the future. This is now.

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  4. michael reynolds says:

    I actually profit from a sort of reverse educational snobbery. I do everything my competitors do – often better – and I do it with a tenth grade education. No publisher has ever asked for my school records or even asked if I attended college – I tell them anyway, because it perhaps perversely intimidates people. If anything, with the rise of e-publishing, my little segment of the entertainment world is becoming ever more democratic.

    I can’t prove it, but I suspect the same is or soon will be happening in tech. My son is 15, still in high school, but his work is available online, and he has quite a few digital relationships with people who’d be in a position to hire him after he gets out of college. He shrugs off as ‘no big deal’ that he’s connected via social media to various tech corporate guys. Would a Stanford degree help still? Probably. But I don’t think it’s the be-all, end-all. In fact I think his generation may be just about the last where college is organized in this absurd, exclusive way.

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  5. Rafer Janders says:

    My guess is that almost none of the top level entertainers (actors and musicians in any case) have prestigious degrees, and I suspect quite a few have no degrees at all.

    Off the top of my head, I can think of:

    Darren Aronofsky — Harvard.
    Natalie Portman – Harvard.
    Matt Damon — Harvard.
    Rashida Jones — Harvard
    John Krasinksi – Brown
    Conan O’Brien – Harvard
    Julia Stiles – Columbia
    Maggie Gylenhall — Columbia
    David Duchovny — Princeton, Yale
    Paul Giamatti — Yale
    Ed Norton — Yale
    Meryl Streep — Yale
    Amanda Peet — Yale

    And of course, if you examine the writing staffs of most major TV shows, they are heavily staffed by Ivy League grads.

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  6. Rafer Janders says:

    The real value of having gone to a top Ivy League school, is, of course, the network. The friends I went to school with, and their friends, are now heads of major networks and movie studios, film and TV stars, law firm partners, hedge fund founders, investment bank managing directors, well-known novelists, heads of major medical departments, Senators, congressmen, and President of the United States. They run Google, Facebook, CNN. If I ever encounter any major obstacle, I always know, in the back of my head, that either I know someone at a very high level who can help, or if I don’t know someone, one of my friends does.

    The Ivy League schools provide a great education, it’s true. But the education itself is not always qualitivatively better than what you could find at a similarly-situated non-Ivy. What cannot be replicated, however, is the network of extremely influential, smart and driven people that it will put you in touch with.

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  7. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @george: If you read Tina Fey’s book “Bossypants” states explicitly that her writers’ rooms on 30 Rock consist exclusively of two groups of people – Harvard grads and Second City (the Chicago branch, specifically) alums.

    Not generic “Ivy League,” but specifically Harvard.

    I’m sure there is some dramatic license there, but the point remains. She even points out that Conan (Harvard alum) had never been on live TV before Lorne Michaels pushed him to NBC as Letterman’s replacement.

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  8. Let's Be Free says:

    Hey, I got a great idea. Put the government in charge of admission policies, tuition setting, curriculum decisions, endowment management and hiring policies at selective admission colleges and universities. That will increase value, improve equity and make everything fair and accesible to all.

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  9. michael reynolds says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    if you examine the writing staffs of most major TV shows, they are heavily staffed by Ivy League grads.

    That may explain a lot.

    If there’s one problem TV has it is this: Great concepts, no plot machine. In other words, they know how to come up with a pilot, but they don’t know how to build an enduring set-up that will supply 100 A plots and 100 B plots over the course of five years. They come at it as problem-solvers, as start-up guys, so we get clever premises. They don’t come at it as working writers who might wonder “Okay, but where is the structure that gives us a story in episode 29?”

    I see this a lot in TV, most recently with Last Resort which after seeing the pilot I predicted would be canceled. Great premise, but they were threadbare on plot by the second half-hour and you could see the holes in the structure. Action-adventure premise followed by soap opera plotting. Nope.

    It’s interesting that Hollywood, which had gone through a period of thinking, “We don’t need books, we can make up our own stuff,” is now reaching out hard to book writers. In fact to my certain knowledge there are Hollywood heavies insisting on concepts first being made into books, basically as proofs of concept, before going to feature or TV.

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  10. Drew says:

    @James Joyner:

    And I bet there is a significant Juliard contingent….

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  11. Mikey says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I can’t prove it, but I suspect the same is or soon will be happening in tech.

    As someone who works in tech, I have no doubt this is the case. Not only is a university education unnecessary for nearly everything we do day-to-day, most of the tech stuff–from a network-design-and-implementation standpoint, which is what I know–is self-teachable.

    An Ivy League degree would add nothing a reasonably bright kid couldn’t pick up from the Internet. Most of what I do, I learned from hands-on, breaking stuff, etc.

    Not that I’m anti-education–I have an MS, my daughter is earning her Ph.D. (both of us from lowly “state” schools)–but I think there is a whole lot we push kids into college to learn that they could learn just as well, and with far less stress and debt, through apprenticeships or online teaching.

    And your son is at the forefront of what could turn out to be a real revolution in how our young people get into their professions.

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  12. Rafer Janders says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I see this a lot in TV, most recently with Last Resort which after seeing the pilot I predicted would be canceled.

    Yeah, Last Resort really puzzled me. That’s a movie, not a 22 episode a seaon, four to five seasons TV show. Seriously, what were they going to have had those guys do 100 episodes in?

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  13. george says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    I see the point about writers and producers, but still, against your list I’d put all the Beatles, the Stones, Tom Cruise, Oprah , Spielberg etc.

    And Michael Reynolds post above has me wondering about writers – I suspect that most of the top writers (certainly in the past, Tolstoy, Austin, Goethe etc, but also today) haven’t gone to prestigious universities either.

    I draw no conclusions from this, just a thought.

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  14. Rafer Janders says:

    @george:

    Well yes, but remember that the Ivies by definition are exclusive: in any population, you are always going to have more people who have not attended the exclusvine instution than those who have. That doesn’t mean that going to the exclusive instituion doesn’t give you an advantage.

    Similarly, most Army officer have not gone to West Point. But those who did come out of West Point do better and are more highly regarded, as a group, than those who didn’t.

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  15. george says:

    @Mikey:

    Depends upon what you mean by tech. If you mean designing the hardware the tech runs on, its actually going the other way – you need increasingly specialized Phd’s and post docs to do so (mainly physics and electrical engineering combos). Moreso than a few decades ago, when a lot of the designers had BSc’s or BEng’s and lot’s of experience. Some of that is just the math curve – it takes a lot as the technology becomes closer to quantum mechanical boundaries.

    On the other hand, prestigious universities play a surprisingly small role in that, depending I suppose what you call presitgious. CIT and MIT aren’t typically listed among prestigious schools in general terms, but they are in the sciences and engineering.

    Looking at this and my entertainment comments, maybe I’m just feeling contrary today, so I’ll shut up now.

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  16. john personna says:

    … I was just off doing my MOOC homework.

    I read this piece earlier, dropped a link in a previous thread even. I took a different view of the article and its arc. I thought the author used cheating as a jumping off point and then reviewed a whole lot of general brokenness. If our best schools are messed up, yeah, it could be a problem if the best students went to them. Monoculture is bad. Damaged monoculture is worse.

    Elite, broken, monoculture?

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  17. Tony W says:

    @Mikey: I found the technology intuitive, but the state-college education useful for soft skills such as persuasion, interpersonal awareness and writing for comprehension.

    The classic liberal-arts education is still useful in those areas and, to my mind, always will be. I don’t give a damn how great you are technically – if you upset everyone around you and cannot form a coherent sentence I won’t hire you.

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  18. john personna says:

    Someone, either in that article or in response to it, summarized the elite colleges thus:

    The sons of rich men mix with the brilliant, gaining plausibility that they are in that later group. The brilliant gain access to rich men. Win, win, for those two kinds of lucky duckies.

    I’d call both of those “signalling” plays. Anyone above some certain bar in either category (has connections, has brains) can play. You might as well select X hundred rich students and Y hundred brilliant students to form a class. That’s what the Ivies seem to do, with an anti-Aisan bias.

    Note that little of this has to do with them being “great schools.” They don’t have to be. They only have to be good enough to maintain the associations with rich and smart people.

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  19. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Unz has deteriorated since his halcyon days of pushing for English-only education. Now he mostly sounds sort of bitter.

    That aside, the first thing that really jumped out at me when reading Unz’s piece was it’s sun rises in east quality. Gee whiz, the wealthy have advantages over the non-wealthy and the Ivy Leagues are a giant clique which lead to cryonism in wealth and power circles?? Stop the presses!

    But on a more important note Unz needs to break out of his own cocoon. For every Wall Street investment bank that won’t hire anybody except from the elite schools, or a legacy hire, there are a few hundred financial services companies outside of Manhattan that will. And do.

    Yes, granted, you’re almost certainly not going to get onto the SCOTUS if you didn’t attend truly an elite law school, but that didn’t stop Andrew Cuomo from becoming AG and then governor of the State of New York, or Bob McDonnell from becoming AG and then governor of the State of Virginia, or Martin O’Malley from becoming governor of the State of Maryland, or Rob Portman from becoming a representative, a cabinet official and now a U.S. Senator, or Brian Sandoval from becoming a state attorney general, a federal district judge and then governor of the State of Nevada, or Marco Rubio from becoming a U.S. Senator. Now each of these men are leading prospective presidential contenders too.

    Unz’s article is ironic in the sense that the irony of being elitist in a screed about elitism likely would be lost on him. There’s a whole lotta’ country and a whole lotta’ economy out there outside of the confines of Manhattan, and other big cities and the Northeast. Unz would do himself well to visit once in a while. And to stop and listen.

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  20. Mikey says:

    @george: No need to feel you’re just being contrary, you raised a valid point. My post was from the perspective of implementation. The need for specialized people with super-technical Ph.D.s in hardware design is there, but it requires a relatively small number of people. From the network design and implementation standpoint, you can become really good through industry training and hands-on without even having a Bachelor’s. I worked with some guys in the USAF who were just fantastic, and all they had were high school diplomas.

    But many employers still pass you by if you don’t have that sheepskin, which is a shame.

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  21. mattb says:

    @Mikey:

    An Ivy League degree would add nothing a reasonably bright kid couldn’t pick up from the Internet. Most of what I do, I learned from hands-on, breaking stuff, etc.

    While the tech industry prides itself on bring a meritocracy, this is fundamentally not true.

    As @Rafer Janders correctly states, the Ivy adds a network. And it’s not just a network of Graduates, but it’s also a network of the Professor’s contacts. A driven student in an Ivy, especially one that forms a relationship with the right Professors, gains entry to a patronage system that will lead to better interships and initial entry level postions. And that in turn can lead to better long term job options.

    The smart self educated kid will still be able to find work, and if driven can thrive. But the fact is that the Ivy student (or any other student whose in the patronage network of an industry expert) will have a leg up and a wider field of options available to them.

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  22. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Oops, “its sun rises in east quality,” that is.

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  23. john personna says:

    (I suppose the Asian restriction does help the sons of rich white men blend in …)

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  24. Mikey says:

    @Tony W: A good point, although I know a few people with college degrees who excel at upsetting and are disappointments at articulation. But, in general, you’re correct.

    Still, even the “soft skills” can be taught apart from the university setting. They could be part of apprenticeship programs, for example, or community college curricula in technical disciplines.

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  25. MBunge says:

    @michael reynolds: “They don’t come at it as working writers who might wonder “Okay, but where is the structure that gives us a story in episode 29?””

    I wonder if the professionalization of writing, especially TV or movie writing, doesn’t matter more than the Ivy influence. I mean, the tradition of writers being guys and gals who had done other stuff with their lives before taking up the craft, as opposed to folks who’ve grown up and gone to school with the intention of never being anything else

    Mike

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  26. Rafer Janders says:

    @mattb:

    A driven student in an Ivy, especially one that forms a relationship with the right Professors, gains entry to a patronage system that will lead to better interships and initial entry level postions. And that in turn can lead to better long term job options.

    Yes. Just to take one example, the first job one of my friends had upon leaving college was as personal assistant to Larry Summers, which job she got because her professor was friends with Summers. Summers then took her with him to the World Bank, and later to the Clinton and Obama White Houses and high-paying jobs at investment banks. Without having gone to Harvard, she never would have had that first foot in the door.

    And that’s just one example out of several hundred I know.

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  27. Mikey says:

    @mattb: OK then–an Ivy League degree would add nothing from a technical education standpoint a reasonably bright kid couldn’t pick up from the Internet.

    I think we all agree the value of the Ivies is in the personal network attendees build. And I think that leads to a lot of mediocre people ending up in positions of great power and responsibility.

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  28. john personna says:

    @MBunge:

    Most TV shows have a mish-mash approach designed to bring in multiple audiences. You know, like sticking Doris Roberts in anything to pull in older women viewers.

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  29. Franklin says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    That aside, the first thing that really jumped out at me when reading Unz’s piece was it’s sun rises in east quality. Gee whiz, the wealthy have advantages over the non-wealthy and the Ivy Leagues are a giant clique which lead to cryonism in wealth and power circles?? Stop the presses!

    While this vicious cycle may seem obvious to you, it must not be obvious to most people who are against progressive tax rates. There are so many avenues for the rich to get richer that it’s just impossible to argue that higher tax rates hurt them in any meaningful way.

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  30. john personna says:

    I realize that OTB is not a higher education blog. And I realize it might be frustrating that I turned out right on the whole MOOC revolution (trend spotting). But still, I think that if you are going to spend “attention” in 2012, it shouldn’t really be on old patterns in Ivy education.

    What Are ‘MOOC’s and Why Are Education Leaders Interested in Them?

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  31. Just Me says:

    I think in just about any area of education the value of an Ivy compared to a second tier or state school is the network that being a graduate provides. Also in some fields having Harvard or Yale on your diploma vs State University will provide extra brownie points.

    I think some fields it isn’t as important but I think what most people realize is what a degree from Harvard provides is post graduate networking more than an education above and beyond other schools (I am pretty sure that an accounting degree from an accredited state university isn’t all that different or inferior to one from Harvard-math is math).

    I do think this article is interesting on the heels of the discussion about thinking and how the issue of privilege comes into play.

    Some students have a huge leg up when they are have parents who have the money to pay for the expensive private education and expensive test prep compared to a poor student who is limited to what their public school provides and at most the ability to buy a copy of a Barron’s test prep booklet.

    I think in general what is happening is that our country is cycling into a sort of aristocracy and that status comes not from an inherited titles but from where one goes to school and the ability to get your children into those same schools.

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  32. @john personna: I think it’s possible that the online revolution can fundamentally alter the ability for people of modest means to learn. But what’s the evidence that having watched a lot of smart videos and gleaned useful information from them will overcome the advantages of those whose parents got them into Harvard?

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  33. al-Ameda says:

    Most of the brightest kids today apply to get into the top universities and liberal arts colleges, so why should any one be surprised that college and path determination correlates to success in American society? It seems to me to be obvious, a kind of syllogism.

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  34. john personna says:

    @James Joyner:

    I was just thinking that your view was very subjective. Do you really want to “overcome the advantages of those whose parents got them into Harvard?” Perhaps that is a very localized problem.

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  35. john personna says:

    One way to divide the question is who are you worried about?

    Are you worried about the top 5% breaking into the top 1%?

    Or are you worried about the top 80% doing well?

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  36. john personna says:

    Let’s do some simple math. Harvard has 6,676 undergraduates. Call that 1700 freshmen. There are 10 million 15-19 year olds in the US. Call that 2 million 18 year olds, and assume they all graduated high school, are ready for college.

    That means Harvard can accept 0.085% of the cohort.

    It doesn’t matter what criteria you choose. It won’t matter to 99.915% of the cohort.

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  37. john personna says:

    BTW, that brings us back to the title of the quoted work:

    “The Myth of American Meritocracy”

    For Harvard to be a true meritocracy they’d have to be picking people at the 99.9th percentile, by some sort of measure, and accepting them alone.

    I really don’t know if James would accept that kind of alternate set of leaders, but odds would suggest it would include none of us.

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  38. Rafer Janders says:

    @al-Ameda:

    Most of the brightest kids today apply to get into the top universities and liberal arts colleges, so why should any one be surprised that college and path determination correlates to success in American society?

    Most apply, but most don’t get in. For every kid admitted to Harvard, there are a 100 equally qualified who won’t be. But the one who gets in will have a leg up on the 100 who don’t because of the network and signalling effects that four years at Harvard provide, no matter that the non-Harvard grads are equally smart and driven.

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  39. john personna says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    Right, but again those are problems of the 99.9th percentile. People who would have made a 0.1% cut, in theory, but are left “to their own devices.”

    Poor brilliant people, what will they do?

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  40. Rafer Janders says:

    @john personna:

    Poor brilliant people, what will they do?

    I presume most of them go to Cornell.

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  41. mattb says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    I presume most of them go to Cornell.

    I take that personally.

    And, really, they go to the State/Agg side of Cornell versus the Private/Arts side. The Arts quad is still lots of big bucks.

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  42. Just Me says:

    Most of the brightest kids today apply to get into the top universities and liberal arts colleges, so why should any one be surprised that college and path determination correlates to success in American society?

    But they don’t all get into Harvard. All of the Ivy’s have small freshmen classes, so a lot of very bright kids get rejected for a reason other than being bright.

    Also there are some bright kids who get rejected because they aren’t the desired race (Asians with high test scores often get rejected out of a desire for diversity), from the right region (Harvard will only take so many students from their freshman class from New England so a bright kid from Mass may get rejected), or the right family (legacy admissions are common) along with other criteria.

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  43. michael reynolds says:

    @john personna:

    I think we’re having a little paradigm shift on college. People are starting to question the economics, and becoming skeptical about credentialing. These are the opening moves in what I think will eventually become a real shift in perceptions. Once you start to understand that credential ≠ education you begin to undercut the importance of Harvard. That’s a shift that can occur very suddenly. In fact, I suspect that even a decade from now the words “Harvard degree” will earn eyerolls. Technology will inevitably democratize education.

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  44. wr says:

    @James Joyner: Not so much writers — unless you want to work on The Simpsons — but on the network/agent/executive side, you bet.

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  45. wr says:

    @Rafer Janders: “And of course, if you examine the writing staffs of most major TV shows, they are heavily staffed by Ivy League grads.”

    That’s simply not true (except, as I said, for The Simpsons and some shows run by Simpsons alums). If there is an overwhelming educational similarity between writing staffs, it’s more likely to be UCLA, USC or NYU — the big films schools.

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  46. wr says:

    @michael reynolds: ” Great concepts, no plot machine. In other words, they know how to come up with a pilot, but they don’t know how to build an enduring set-up that will supply 100 A plots and 100 B plots over the course of five years. They come at it as problem-solvers, as start-up guys, so we get clever premises. They don’t come at it as working writers who might wonder “Okay, but where is the structure that gives us a story in episode 29?”

    But that’s really not the fault of the writers, for the most part. It happens because most network executives these days come from marketing or MBA programs, and they simply have no idea how TV shows work — but the multinationals that own the nets want business guys in charge, not soft-headed creative types.

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  47. wr says:

    @michael reynolds: “In fact to my certain knowledge there are Hollywood heavies insisting on concepts first being made into books, basically as proofs of concept”

    Because they are incapable of judging for themselves whether or not the concept is viable. Also, if the book sells, then it’s a pre-sold concept, which means they’re not to blame it if fails.

    Again, this has nothing to do with the writers, and everything to do with a corrupt, decadent corporate culture.

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  48. wr says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: Yes, Tsar, you are just as good and just as important as any of those Ivy League losers who are running the country. You keep telling yourselt that as you type your anonymous screeds on the internet.

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  49. Rafer Janders says:

    @wr:

    Well, I can only speak from personal experience, but I’ve had Harvard friends and classmates write for Friends, Seinfeld, The Practice, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Brotherhood, Up All Night, House, The Office, The West Wing, Parks & Rec, Ally McBeal, and a few others whose names I’m not coming up with at present. Of course in terms of sheer numbers there’ll be more USC/UCLA etc. grads, but there’s a strong network effect out of all proportion to the actual number of Harvard undergrads, and it’s a very useful foot in the door.

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  50. wr says:

    @george: “I see the point about writers and producers, but still, against your list I’d put all the Beatles, the Stones”

    Of course, Mick Jagger did go to the London School of Economics…

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  51. mattb says:

    @Rafer Janders:
    Additionally it should be noted that for the entertainment industry USC/UCLA has a similar sort of network value (both in terms of grads and faculty contacts). Ditto Stanford and MIT in the tech industries.

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  52. john personna says:

    I feel bad that I said “top 80%.” I was trying to be inclusive, but that would be 100%, of course.

    Complaints among the top few percent are anything but.

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  53. michael reynolds says:

    @wr:
    There are things guys using initials can say that guys using their own names cannot. ;-)

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  54. wr says:

    @michael reynolds: Yup. Pretty much the reason I use my initials…

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  55. al-Ameda says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    @john personna:
    Poor brilliant people, what will they do?

    I presume most of them go to Cornell.

    Bill Maher, Ann Coulter …

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  56. superdestroyer says:

    The highest starting pay for a BS holder only are petroleum engineers. The only elite university with a petroleum engineering program is Standford. Most of the colleges with the program are public university. However, the thing to remember is that petroleum engineering is a normally distributed field where the mean wages is very good but the top 5% pay pales compared to investment banking.

    A smart middle class kid would be better off at Texas A&M majoring in petroleum engineering because a middle class kid will probably be too poor to make all of those networking connections at a place like Harvard. The Ivy degree just leaves the kid pursing a career in a log-normal field where a few get rich and many fail.

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  57. JKB says:

    Seems to me the IBM defense is working here. No one ever got fired for buying IBM computers and no one get fired for hiring an Ivy Leaguer either, I’d bet. So the Ivy League as a strong bias going for itself in jobs that the person picking the employee has incentive to be conservative, even if their selection is Liberal.

    For all the talk of meritocratic selection, the jobs listed have dependent variable making the kid with talent but not Ivy credentials rare if ever selected. That is, while say a Supreme Court Justice may be very talented, they are not really better than the larger of non-Ivy pool that performs at that level. More interesting is that there are no Justices from the defense bar. Justices are selected from judges and judges tend to be former prosecutors, prosecutors tend to be a self selected group who get their opportunities by connections, etc.

    The real problem is, in our administrative state, you can’t just make your own way. Along the line, you have to be selected by, obviously biased, gatekeepers. Those gatekeepers select those similar to themselves, with a smattering of diversity thrown in where it doesn’t matter and they’ll go for the Ivy Leaguer over others since if the selection goes bad they won’t have to explain why they went with a “less credentialed” candidate. If we want to mix it up, we need more freedom in the economy so that the uncredentialed talent can get investors and won’t be stepped on by not having the proper government signoff, whether that be an Ivy credential or a government license.

    A few questions:

    What happens to the Ivy Leaguers who get the shot but don’t perform? Are they accounted for or is there a bias in the sampling?

    What about in fields where the measure of a person comes from the market, such as the petroleum engineer? Does the Ivy investment banker really outperform the broker from a state school, if we control for the Wall Street opportunity benefit?

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  58. Just Me says:

    That’s a shift that can occur very suddenly. In fact, I suspect that even a decade from now the words “Harvard degree” will earn eyerolls.

    I doubt there is going to be an eye roll for a Harvard degree any time soon. Just look at the SCOTUS which is dominated by Harvard and politics in general. Ivy league degrees matter in places like that and it isn’t necessarily merit that matters but who you know and the status that comes with the degree.

    There is also a certain disdain in some circles for non Ivy colleges.

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  59. george says:

    @JKB:

    What about in fields where the measure of a person comes from the market, such as the petroleum engineer? Does the Ivy investment banker really outperform the broker from a state school, if we control for the Wall Street opportunity benefit?

    Couldn’t tell yout about investment bankers, but degree doesn’t mean much after the first five years in engineering – at that point you’re judged by what you do in the field (the field possibly being the golf course in some cases, but that’s another story).

    Same with graduate degrees in engineering – they can result in higher starting pay, but generally that levels out quickly. Which is why only a minority of engineering bachelor’s bother with graduate degrees, there’s no financial gain. Now if you want to become a professor or do research in engineering, then going to something like MIT or CIT (as opposed to Harvard or Yale, though Stanford is still good) can help, and you’ll need a Phd and post-doc’s. But being a prof tends to involve a pay cut in engineering, so its not something everyone likes. Better working conditions though on campus.

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  60. Pharoah Narim says:

    I’ve said it for years. Political and legal thought have become poisoned by creative incest that occurs when people come from the same background. Regardless of how they came there–they all cut their formative teeth, came of age at Harvard/Yale/etc, and have similar backgrounds after under and post grads. We talk of the Republican echo chamber–guess what? There is an even bigger one churning out the movers and shakers of tomorrow. This country will continue to experience a drought of solutions until this reverses course.

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  61. Barry says:

    @Mikey: “As someone who works in tech, I have no doubt this is the case. Not only is a university education unnecessary for nearly everything we do day-to-day, most of the tech stuff–from a network-design-and-implementation standpoint, which is what I know–is self-teachable. ”

    Don’t think peon level; think of the people running things.

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