Sunday, January 16, 2005

Who Needs Harvard?

Slates' Daniel Gross writes why big corporations are hiring fewer Ivy league students.

Gross provides evidence of this from a recent paper by Peter Cappelli and Monika Hamori, both of the University of Pennsylvania. Capelli and Hamori compared the resumes of the top c-level executives (CEO, CFO, COO, CTO etc), division heads and senior vice-presidents at Fortune 100 companies in 1980 and 2001.

The survey found that :

Between 1980 and 2001, the percentage of top executives whose undergraduate degrees came from Ivy League schools fell by nearly a third from 14 percent to 10 percent. Others who paid through the nose for their sheepskins also lost ground. The percentage of top execs who attended private non-Ivy schools (Williams College, Notre Dame, Stanford, etc.) fell from 54 percent in 1980 to 42 percent in 2001. Meanwhile, the proportion of those who attended public universities soared from 32 percent to 48 percent. A similar dynamic was seen in graduate degrees as well: far fewer on a percentage basis from Ivy League schools and far more on a percentage basis from public universities.


Daniel Gross provides the following explanation for this :

Something has changed about the character of the student bodies at many Ivy League schools in recent decades. With the rising ability of the wealthy to smooth the path to admission by paying private-school tuition and hiring college advisers and SAT-prep tutors—and with college tuition far outpacing financial aid growth—rich kids are more likely to get in, and to attend, Ivy League schools than in the past.

On a percentage basis, fewer Ivy League graduates than public school graduates today need to find stable, high-paying jobs at big companies. More of them can afford to traipse around Asia for a year or pursue a career in film-making. It could be that the already rich and comfortable are simply less interested in pursuing careers in large corporations than their less-comfortable public-school peers for purely economic reasons.


This article was Slashdotted, some of the comments from there.

From the Uva perspective, by Pavan Gupta :


I can speak from the perspective of UVa out here in Virginia -- which was ranked as the #1 public school last year, and is tied for #2 this year with University of Michigan. #1 this year is UC Berkley, who trades spots with UVa every few years. (All these facts are courtesy of the worst ranking agent ever, US News and World Reports)

Anyway, basically what I'm trying to say is that public schools are making huge headway into almost every important field. Berkley has the amazing engineering program that the best schools compete neck and neck with. Michigan has extremly competitive law, business, and medical schools. Virginia has #4 law program, the #12 business program, the #24 medical school, a top 5 commerce school (that puts out some of the best investment bankers in the world) -- etc, etc.

Between the three top public institutions, every facet of higher education is relatively well covered from medicine to liberal arts to commerce to engineering. Today, wasting 50 grand a year on a Harvard education may still be worth it if you're not lucky enough to be living in Virginia, California or Michigan, but honestly -- the concept of building a network of connections and alumni support is well expressed in our public instituions today.

Perhaps the biggest difference between a public school and a private schools is a fact that wikipedia expresses -- the endowments are huge for schools like Harvard and Yale. UVA had an endowment of 1.4 billion dollars, harvard had 22.6 billion, and yale was at 11 billion. Harvard is the second largest nonprofit after the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.

Those are the facts that set apart a university like Harvard from a UVA or a Berkley.


Kardar ponders on Why Education? :


I think the key is to seperate "education" from a "license to get a real job". There are two camps here, really two sides. Pursuing philosophy because you LOVE it, and it enraptures you and consumes you and becomes your life's passion... or computer science, or theoretical physics, or economics, or any other subject like that. Versus working hard to get a BS so that someone will hire you. Versus "you forget most of what you study anyway, it just proves to your employer that you are willing to work hard".

When you focus objectively on the subject, when you do what is called "deep learning", when you really get into what you are studying, and actually get your brain working, thinking new ideas, coming up with new questions, trying to find new answers, you begin to experience the true value of education, which is, if you asked me, about learning the material, understanding the significance of astronomy or physics or ethics or philosophy or literature or art or film, or politics, economics, etc...

I am from the camp that respects education because education is good in and of itself, intrinsically. I find education to be an end in and of itself, a way to improve yourself, question your place in society, learn more about the world you live in. I am not from the camp that feels that education is a "license" to get a job.


Grey Poppon on this topic "Or are today's Ivy League graduates simply so wealthy that they no longer feel the need to find stable, high-paying jobs at big companies?"

Or maybe it's the fact that there aren't any stable jobs at large companies anymore. Why spend the big bucks on the school when you'll have to change jobs every three years anyway. The article mentions it, but I can assure you that C-level executive positions usually last less than five years. The same is true for most other positions now, too.


As I blogged on Data and Patterns :

One key insight that emerged from Chistensen's exercise is that data and analysis revolve around the past, leaving us blind to the threats and opportunities of the future.


The data which this paper provides is about graduates finished studying before 1990, it does not tell us anything about graduates passing out in 2005. This is something which our own pattern recognition abilities need to conclude upon!

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