The eye of the needle

by John Quiggin on September 20, 2010

Following up on various things I’d seen around the tubes, I was surprised (as US readers may well not be) to discover that most of the Ivy League universities only have around 5000 undergraduate students (altogether, they total around 50 000), and, more strikingly, that this number doesn’t seem to have changed in decades (I found this tablegoing back to the mid-1980s but from what I can tell, the numbers were much the same back in the 1950s). In fact, you could throw in Stanford, Chicago and all the top-ranking liberal arts colleges without reaching 100 000 overall.

A few thoughts about this over the fold

  • That compares to a college-age cohort of around 15 million and total enrolments of around 6 million. So, to the extent that a large range of high-prestige jobs (eg Supreme Court justice) are reserved for, or dominated by, graduates of the top colleges, around 99 per cent of the population have missed out by the age of 18.
  • Relative to population, this is a much finer filter than Oxbridge or the Grandes Ecoles (around 50 000 25000 places for countries with total population of about 60 million).

*Although the size of the college age cohort has fluctuated over time, it has risen over the past twenty years. So, high-end college education is an example of a service for which consumption per person is declining over time. Examples like this help to explain how median real income can be static or declining when consumption of many goods (computers and so on) is obviously increasing

  • The picture is worse for those outside the top 10 per cent of the income distribution. I can’t find it now, but I’ve seen studies showing that the proportion of admissions from the top decile is rising, meaning that the absolute number of places for everyone else is declining.
  • Given the tightness of the filter the fact that a substantial proportion of places go to legacies and athletics admissions makes the waste of talent even greater.[1]
  • Advocates of more differentiation in the Australian higher education system often bemoan the lack of a Harvard or a Princeton. But, scaled down for relative population, these institutions wouldn’t have enough undergrads to fill a lecture hall. Even taking the entire sector, the Australian equivalent would enrol around 5000. And, Australia being what it is, there is no chance of just one state/city getting selected as the site for the elite university[2]

fn1. The same claim could be made (and regularly is) about affirmative action. But, if the US is anything like Australia, entry scores for students from poorer backgrounds underpredict university performance, those from high-status private schools overpredict.

fn2. At the research/graduate level, we did this with the Australian National University in Canberra after the war. But that wouldn’t work today, and, indeed, ANU is now more similar than different to the other Australian research universities.

{ 172 comments }

1

Ken Houghton 09.20.10 at 11:34 pm

Quick reaction to the 5,000 number: admissions have gone up significantly. In my day (the year before BarryO graduated), admission to Columbia College itself was ca. 700-750 per year.

I suspect some of the schools–Pravda on the Chuck, for example–may benefit from their merger of two single-gender schools into one. (We tried to do that in the early 1980s, before realizing that the place across the street was very happy being, effectively, a high-rent commuter college.

2

Nick Barnes 09.20.10 at 11:52 pm

Oxford and Cambridge combined have fewer than 25K undergraduates.

3

otto 09.20.10 at 11:54 pm

Its about 24,000 undergrads for Oxbridge in the UK, which is about the same as the 100,000 in the US you talk about. As for France, Wikipedia says: “This is a total of 3,450 students entering the most prestigious Grandes Ecoles in 2009, roughly the same as 2008. 3,450 represents less than 1% (0.7%)of the number of people graduating from French high schools (500,000) each year.”, although I’m not sure where the line is drawn for ‘most prestigious’ here.

4

Lemuel Pitkin 09.20.10 at 11:56 pm

1. 5,000 is a typo for 50,000 right? Doesn’t affect your bigger point.

2. The main way the supply of Ivy League type education has increased is through the addition of new elite schools. E.g. NYU (21,000 undergrads), which is considered an Ivy equivalent today but was not a couple generations ago. So enrollment in a static group of schools is not really capturing the whole picture here.

However, you are certainly right that the elite schools enroll only a very small fraction of college students. And you are probably right that that has proportion has fallen in recent decades.

This brings out another interesting point: To the extent the supply of college places is fixed or at least inelastic, government support for higher education that takes the form of loans and grants to students will simply raise the price of tuition. The implication is that for governments to increase access to higher ed, they need to shift away from providing funding to individual students and back toward direct support of public colleges.

5

Myles SG 09.20.10 at 11:56 pm

So, to the extent that a large range of high-prestige jobs (eg Supreme Court justice) are reserved for, or dominated by, graduates of the top colleges, around 99 per cent of the population have missed out by the age of 18.

It’s not as difficult to get into Ivies if you have the right cultural conditioning. The problem is, this is a chicken-or-egg question: would the people who would not miss out in a system with a less fine filter be, ahem, appropriate for the systematic upper-middle-class elite in any case? The people who are filtered out are generally the people who would not fit in to acculturate to the Northeastern upper-middle-class cultural norms anyways.

Basically, by applying such a fine filter they are filtering out people who might bring down the system, while preserving enough of a semblance of meritocracy, by recruiting just enough a proportion of the high-merit candidate to prevent a system breakdown.

It’s a fine line in the sand. Remember, a good number of the socializers and theorists of the post-war British Labour welfare state were Oxbridge-educated. In fact, it could be argued that without sympathetic Oxbridge men, Labourism would have remained inchoate and gone nowhere. It’s not a bug, but a feature, that the U.S. system is not making the same mistake.

6

Myles SG 09.20.10 at 11:59 pm

My personal experience, and this is purely anecdotal, is that the recruited athletes in the more middle-class sports (soccer, squash, tennis, rowing, lacrosse) are actually better academically than the median incoming student, at least in the most elite colleges, because they tend to have gone to more demanding preparatory schools (Exeter, Choate, Loomis, etc.) or extremely exclusive public schools (Brookline, Greenwich, etc.) to a far greater extent than the median student.

Legacies might be another story, although very few legacies I know have ever dipped below a 3.0 GPA.

7

Donald A. Coffin 09.21.10 at 12:02 am

I blogged about this late last year (http://signsofchaos.blogspot.com/2009/11/tuition-and-enrollment-at-elite-private.html#comments), on the occasion of a spate of stories about elinte institution costs breaking through the $50K per year barrier. The economist in me finds the failure of elite institutions to expand (by opening new campuses) somewhat odd.

8

Myles SG 09.21.10 at 12:04 am

Or to repeat myself: the biggest risk of elite collegiate education isn’t so much imperfection of meritocracy (Groton, Exeter, Andover, Hun, Princeton Day, Roxbury Latin, Nobles, Deerfield, St. Paul’s, St. Albans, Episcopal, Woodberry Forest, etc. had always been sufficiently rigorous and demanding, and too markedly superior to normal high schools, that academic merit was not a real worry but a phantom and abstract one). Sure, on an abstract level some kid who got filtered out might have a higher IQ or what-have-you than would seem to justify the filtration (as was precisely my case), but the capacity to destroy the system on account of insufficient or non-existent cultural conditioning to east-coast upper-middle-class norms (as was also precisely my case) is, frankly, and not without reason, a bigger threat to the system.

9

william u. 09.21.10 at 12:07 am

I think the American university system is more open and diffuse than its European counterparts. My understanding is that a Frenchman who went to anything less than a Grandes Ecole has little chance of serving in the highest echelons of government; whereas it’s perfectly possible to go to Holy Cross College and serve on the Supreme Court, as Mr. Thomas has demonstrated. (Law is a ‘postgraduate degree’ in the US, after all, and plenty of students climb the academic rungs between undergraduate and Ph.D, MD, JD, etc.)

For undergradute eduction, you’re forgetting MIT, Williams, Berkeley, etc. etc. Even public schools in the Big Ten (Minnesota, Michigan, Penn State..) are decently regarded, and typically these schools will have some kind of honors program.

10

Lemuel Pitkin 09.21.10 at 12:18 am

to the extent that a large range of high-prestige jobs (eg Supreme Court justice) are reserved for, or dominated by, graduates of the top colleges

The really interesting question is, how much is this extent? There certainly are a number of high-prestige jobs (and also plenty of middling-prestige jobs, one suspects, in e.g. the arts and the nonprofit world) where elite degree-holders are strongly preferred. But which ones exactly?

Does anyone know of an empirical studies of the proportions of people with elite degrees in various occupational groups? How many members of Congress, Fortune 500 CEOs, partners at top law firms, etc.? The data is certainly out there.

11

LFC 09.21.10 at 12:23 am

I think it is probably not true that a “large range of high-prestige jobs” in the US are reserved for, or dominated by, graduates of the ‘top’ colleges. People think this is true, but they have not looked at the evidence. I refer you for instance to this analysis of where US Senators went to school; it was done by the blogger T. Greer, following an exchange with me.

12

John Quiggin 09.21.10 at 12:28 am

1. I’ve fixed the numbers for Oxbridge and Grandes Ecoles – I had the wrong number in memory, and didn’t check before posting

2. Columbia is, in the data I presented, an exception to the pattern of stable numbers

3. I took account of both MIT and the liberal arts colleges. Obviously, the top US public universities are very good and enrol large numbers of students – I don’t know what has happened to numbers there. But as regards openness, Thomas is an exception who proves the rule – if the political imperative is to find a black rightwinger, the usual requirement for Ivy League education at both undergrad and grad level may have to be waived.

13

John Quiggin 09.21.10 at 12:39 am

For some things – Supreme Court justices – for example, “reserved for” is pretty much accurate.

For CEOs and Senators, it would be more accurate to say that the top schools are heavily over-represented, relative to the population. Here’s some info on CEOs

http://blogs.princeton.edu/paw/2010/05/princeton_ranks.html

14

Lemuel Pitkin 09.21.10 at 12:42 am

the most Ivy League university only have around 5000 undergraduate students

I see, this means that most Ivy League universities have only around 5,000 students each? I read it as supposed to be the total.

In any case, the US News rankings are available online and include undergraduate enrollment. Looking at the table, I think you are going to need an unduly restrictive notion of Ivy-like to keep the total much under 200,000.

15

John Quiggin 09.21.10 at 12:47 am

Following your link, LP, the numbers appear to cover graduate as well as undergraduate students

16

Lemuel Pitkin 09.21.10 at 12:56 am

For CEOs and Senators, it would be more accurate to say that the top schools are heavily over-represented, relative to the population.

Interesting! But note that the BusinessWeek piece the Princteton squib links to, in fact shows that several state universities rank as high as elite private universities. E.g. the Universities of Missouri and Wisconsin, both about the same size as Harvard, claim the same 11 CEOs that Harvard does. So I think the data here points rather away from the elite preference than toward it.

I absolutely do agree with you on the larger point, that there are important positions that are effectively reserved for people with elite degrees. But I think we have to define those positions more narrowly than the elite in general. In particular, I don’t think either business or legislative politics are particularly dominated by products of elite schools. (This may be a contrast with France.) Instead, it’s the top ranks of the professions — including, as you say, the Supreme Court as a paradigm case — that seem to be reserved for the Ivies and their kin. But this is an area where careful empirical work is really needed.

17

Lemuel Pitkin 09.21.10 at 12:59 am

Following your link, LP, the numbers appear to cover graduate as well as undergraduate students

Oops! you’re right. My bad. Well, it was a minor point anyway.

18

rea 09.21.10 at 1:05 am

The University of Michigan, where I went to school many years ago, is huge (58,000 students) and perfectly splendid academically. Are the Ivies really better in anything more than prestige? Permit me to doubt . . .

19

John Quiggin 09.21.10 at 1:25 am

LP, I think Uni of Wisconsin refers to the entire system – 173 000 students according to Wikipedia and similarly for Missouri.

Obviously, the state universities are doing the vast bulk of the undergraduate education task. But until I looked I didn’t realise how small (and shrinking) was the share of the high-end private sector.

20

y81 09.21.10 at 1:53 am

Four thoughts:

1. As others have suggested, it’s a bit of a stretch to say that certain high-prestige jobs are reserved for Ivy League graduates. Supreme Court justice, maybe, but you can certainly be a Fortune 500 CEO with a degree from somewhere else. Of course, you can’t write Y’81 after your name.

2. Affirmative action in the U.S. (I don’t know about Australia) is never class-based, it is always purely race-based, and the products of affirmative action certainly do not outperform the average matriculant. Also, I don’t recall ever seeing any evidence that they outperform their expected performance based on grades and standardized tests.

3. @7: As an economist, I read a striking analysis which compared Ivy League institutions to Yugoslavian worker-owned enterprises. Whereas an enterprise owned by the suppliers of its capital (i.e., the normal U.S. for-profit business) responds to high demand by expanding production, a worker-owned enterprise (like a university or a Yugoslavian co-operative) does not, because that requires additional employees and dilutes the profits available to the existing employees.

4. @4: NYU is NOT an Ivy equivalent. I’m not saying this in a snobbish way. There are plenty of Ivy League equivalents: Duke, Amherst, Chicago, Stanford (obviously), maybe Pomona. But not NYU. (Other than its law school, which possibly ranks level with Columbia and above Penn and Cornell.)

21

Lemuel Pitkin 09.21.10 at 1:54 am

I don’t want to debate this too much. But Missouri has only 32,000 students in total, which is comparable to Harvard. (And don’t you think most of those 11 Wisconsin CEOs went to one of the flagship campuses?) Or look at number 9 on the list, Indiana University, with 8 CEOs, right behind Princeton with 9. 32,000 undergrads. So yes, a Princeton has five times the chance of ending up as a Fortune 500 CEO as an IU grad does. But does that number seem high to you? To me, it seems notably low — especially when you consider the obsession with elite schools in our culture. I would be surprised if the proportion of elite university graduates in top business jobs is not much higher in France or the UK (tho not in Germany.)

22

M. Gordon 09.21.10 at 2:50 am

@Myles SG: Having gone to Princeton (’98) and having been sort of a social outsider while I was there, I have to ask: WTF do you mean by “bring down the system”? What’s the actual threat model that you’re proposing? I just have no idea what this means, but maybe I just don’t run in the right intellectual circles to get the reference, because nobody else seems to have bothered to ask.

23

Jamie 09.21.10 at 2:52 am

Lemuel Pitkin, the University of Wisconsin at Madison has 29,000 undergraduate students. That’s much bigger than Harvard. (Harvard does have a very large graduate school, but that’s not JQ’s topic.)

JQ, besides Thomas there’s also Scalia, who got his BA from Georgetown. I don’t know whether you meant to include Georgetown among the Ivy-equivalents. I think among Washington-types it is (and NYU is indeed an Ivy-equivalent in elite New York circles).

24

Myles SG 09.21.10 at 2:58 am

Having gone to Princeton (‘98) and having been sort of a social outsider while I was there, I have to ask: WTF do you mean by “bring down the system”? What’s the actual threat model that you’re proposing? I just have no idea what this means, but maybe I just don’t run in the right intellectual circles to get the reference, because nobody else seems to have bothered to ask.

I think I better clarify: I don’t mean leftism. In fact it’s easier to bring down the system if you were just some greedy, grubby businessman looking to maximize profits. I really don’t want to explain, because I sound tedious that way, and it is tedious.

This is the same reason that Harvard-Yale-Princeton don’t have undergraduate business programs (same with the immediately trailing Ivies, Columbia-Dartmouth-Brown; the Ivies with undergrad business programs, Penn-Cornell, happen to be the least well-regarded).

25

Gene O'Grady 09.21.10 at 2:58 am

FYI because I’m familiar with the numbers. Amherst, certainly high on the prestige list, had approximately 1200 students when I entered (1965), had had about 800 ca. 1946, and currently has about 1800. Increase since my time was part of the decision to admit women in the 70’s, which perhaps produced similar increases in number of students in similar colleges at the same time.

On the race vs. class based affirmative action question, Amherst claims a certain responsibility to search out and admit students from public schools in rural areas in New England where the educational opportunities are far less than in private schools or the better suburban schools. These students will be overwhelmingly, if not exclusively, white.

26

Linca 09.21.10 at 3:14 am

Just a small “reality check” about France ; whereas Grandes Ecoles – and Classes Prépas – dominate the field in “liberal arts”, business, engineering and indeed high administration (which is where Sciences Po and ENA dominate), law is organised in the traditional “all that apply can get in” universities. Which means the selection is done later, during the studies for the Licence and Master. Which is also why e.g. Sarkozy, who was not able to get in the meritocrat Grandes Ecoles (although admitted to the school, he couldn’t get a Sciences Po diploma), was still able to get a law degree and pass the bar exam.

27

M. Gordon 09.21.10 at 3:15 am

@Myles SG ” I really don’t want to explain, because I sound tedious that way, and it is tedious.” That is an excellent excuse to avoid being forced to expound on a poorly thought out statement. It’s completely impenetrable, while simultaneously giving the reader the sense that the blame is somehow being shifted back onto them for just not getting it. I’ll have to remember to try that one next time. For maximal effect, if delivered verbally, draw out the “e” in “teeeeeedious”. “Oh, it’s just so teeeeeeedious.”

28

Jack Strocchi 09.21.10 at 3:23 am

Pr Q said:

*Although the size of the college age cohort has fluctuated over time, it has risen over the past twenty years. So, high-end college education is an example of a service for which consumption per person is declining over time. Examples like this help to explain how median real income can be static or declining when consumption of many goods (computers and so on) is obviously increasing.

Another way of saying this is that the demand for “positional goods” (choice real estate, stone universities, model mates), for which there is always a scarce supply relative to demand, is increasing. Whilst the supply of standard goods (food, appliances) is increasing relative to demand.

In economic terms, a greater ratio of income is now being dedicated to “superior goods”.

Overall, this leads to an increase in status-anxiety as the competition for a place in the sun heats up. Full marks to Max Weber and Fred Hirsch for seeing these trends generations before anyone else.

29

Bill Gardner 09.21.10 at 3:34 am

If I may argue from an anecdote… my class at Andover (n = ~250) produced a governor (Jeb Bush; possibly two if — shudder — Tom Foley wins) and a senator (Linc Chafee). In these cases, what mattered was the power, wealth, and political connections of the family, not the school. So even if an unusual number of leading U.S. politicians went to elite schools, I would hesitate before attributing their success to merit acquired through education.

30

Lemuel Pitkin 09.21.10 at 3:46 am

even if an unusual number of leading U.S. politicians went to elite schools, I would hesitate before attributing their success to merit acquired through education.

Let’s be careful here. It’s one thing to claim,as John Q. does, that access to privileged position is due to an elite education. It’s a quite different claim that it’s due to merit acquired therefrom.

31

Bill Gardner 09.21.10 at 4:04 am

Lemuel @30: I take your point. Elite schooling affects the probability of success in ways that are extraneous to education. I expect, though, that you also agree with me that in many ways elite schooling simply mediates prior advantages of family, wealth, and power.

32

Lemuel Pitkin 09.21.10 at 4:11 am

I do.

33

Omega Centauri 09.21.10 at 5:07 am

I suspect we have different types of profession, and reliance on elite prestige varies considerably across them. I think we are primarily discussing high end leadership/management positions here. Other professions tend to be a bit more meritocratic. I was surprised by my son’s statement after a month at Berkeley, “everyone (students) is good at math”. I doubt that would be said about say the Harvard freshman class. What skills are filtered for probably varies considerably across institutions, and among large state universities, it certainly varies by the students selected major.

34

Delicious Pundit 09.21.10 at 5:53 am

This reminds me of one of my favorite books, “The Chosen” by Jerome Karabel, which is a sociological history of admissions at Harvard/Yale/Princeton in the 20th century. I’m misreading it willfully, but I tend to summarize it for people as, “It shows that the reason you need to do an alumni interview for college is that, in the 20s, Harvard was afraid it would be overrun with Jews.”

This being Crooked Timber, though, I bet everyone has read it already and has made references to it in subtle ways that elude me.

35

Sebastian 09.21.10 at 6:01 am

“JQ, besides Thomas there’s also Scalia, who got his BA from Georgetown. I don’t know whether you meant to include Georgetown among the Ivy-equivalents. “

Shhhh, you’re making the Democrats look more elitist. ;)

36

Harold 09.21.10 at 6:07 am

Yes, a lot of the admissions policies we have were designed to exclude Jews. For example, there were quotas on admissions from the Northeast. If you were from Idaho or Florida it was much easier to get in. I don’t know if it is still that way.

37

Tim Worstall 09.21.10 at 7:09 am

I’m not sure that Senators (or Congresscritters in general) would be quite the group to look at. For there’s still quite a strong “local boy/gal” element to US politics.

Not all Senators are carpetbaggers in the way that Hillary Clinton was in NY for example.

So whether or not the Ivies are the filter into the top level of US society that JQ is indicating, I don’t think we’d see it in the politicians so much……well, less in the politicians than in other concentrations of power.

38

Charles S 09.21.10 at 8:45 am

As another high prestige rare occupation: roughly half (5 out of 11) of US secretaries of state since 1972 attended Ivy League Schools (counting the Seven Sisters as Ivies). Certainly disproportionate, but you are not completely ruled out of ending up Secretary of State if you didn’t go to an Ivy.

A more meaningful occupation (you aren’t ever going to be Secretary of State even if you do attend an Ivy): 50% of Federal Judges attended Ivies or other private colleges.

39

Colin Reid 09.21.10 at 9:03 am

The significance of ‘elite’ universities obviously varies from one country to another. One difference I’ve noticed between the UK and Germany is that Germans seem to place a lot less emphasis on which university you went to, and a lot more on how far you got with your studies and your GPA. I think there is more of a tendency here to study at universities near to where you grew up, so there isn’t the same pooling of talent. The result seems to be that the ‘top’ German universities don’t stand out so much internationally, but German tertiary education as a whole is at a high standard. AFAIK Germany’s elite don’t have such a reputation for coming from specific universities. I have no idea if this significantly increases social mobility, though, as the gap in educational achievement emerges much earlier.

40

ajay 09.21.10 at 9:46 am

My understanding is that a Frenchman who went to anything less than a Grandes Ecole has little chance of serving in the highest echelons of government; whereas it’s perfectly possible to go to Holy Cross College and serve on the Supreme Court, as Mr. Thomas has demonstrated.

Data point: ten out of twelve current Supreme Court justices attended either Oxford or Cambridge. (Glasgow and Belfast for the other two.)

41

Chris Bertram 09.21.10 at 11:00 am

In the UK, the total ug figure for the Russell Group as a whole is somewhere just over 300,000. Most of those come in ahead of the bottom-ranked Ivy League institution (Dartmouth, afaics) in these meaningless league tables.

42

SusanC 09.21.10 at 12:32 pm

There are some limits on how far a university can expand (e.g. availability of accomodation for students is often a serious problem). Once these limits start being reached, the obvious response to increased demand for university places is to create more universities in places that don’t already have one, rather than increase the size of the existing ones.

On the other hand, the departments I’m familiar with wouldn’t say no to opportunities for expansion (e.g. more research grants enabling them to take on more research staff, or more (funded) students allowing them to take on more teaching staff).

43

Michael E Sullivan 09.21.10 at 12:35 pm

“Legacies might be another story, although very few legacies I know have ever dipped below a 3.0 GPA.”

I’m not terribly surprised. It’s my understanding that very few ivy students who aren’t seriously struggling in some way (substance abuse, class absence, failure to complete projects) have trouble maintaining a 3.0 or close, due to grade inflation being rampant in these places. It’s much harder to make a 3.0 at some of the second and third tier schools (prestige wise, education-wise many of these schools are every bit as good or better).

The difference between Yale or Harvard, and a school like the one I attended (U of Rochester), or in the top public universities is primarily in prestige of the school, and of faculty, and in the selection of the students. Nearly all the “top” upper middle class students at age 17 who might come to Rochester, or the above mentioned Michigan, also applied to some Ivies, and with very rare exceptions, they didn’t come to Rochester if they got accepted to Cornell, Princeton, Harvard, etc. So the ivies plus a very few equivalents take their pick, and other schools get the rest. There are plenty of top students among the rest, and plenty of very bright students among the set who had zero chance at a harvard admission, because of either a bit of slacking, or just not coming from private or high powered public schools, and not being among the infinitesimal fraction of poor and working class urban or rural public school-goers who are noticed and picked out for prestige-college grooming. And of course, it’s a pretty tiny sliver of potentially successful poor/working class kids who are even lucky enough to get into top state schools or non-ivy privates with enough scholarship to afford it.

And I have to disagree with those who say the range includes a lot more than Stanford, Chicago, MIT along with the Ivies, and so-called little ivies. Not when you are talking about who is considered qualified for the ruling classes in the US without finding a way to make a half a billion dollars. It’s possible to get there from the better state schools or a place like NYU, but it’s a *lot* harder.

For the purpose of getting into a typical upper middle class career track, sure Michigan or NYU and their equivalents are nearly as good as Yale or Harvard (and many of them better at providing education). But I don’t think that’s what John is talking about.

44

bianca steele 09.21.10 at 1:18 pm

@1: Didn’t one of the co-bloggers at CT attend that “commuter college”? (And wouldn’t a Houghton have gone to that university in Massachusetts?)

45

mpowell 09.21.10 at 2:54 pm

I think you need to do some more work here establishing what you mean by ‘elites’. For one thing, many of these 2nd tier schools are perfectly suitable for getting into a top tier law or medical school if you can perform well enough grade-wise and test-wise. I see very few professional limitations from failing to get into a top tier undergraduate school. Of course, we expect the percentage of students graduating from Michigan becoming CEO’s to be much lower just because most of those kids are decent students who would be happy to live an upper-middle class lifestyle. A larger percentage of the strivers who actually want to make the sacrifices to become a CEO have already been accepted to the Ivies.

Let’s at least try to enumerate the roles limited to Ivy graduates before we leap to conclusions here (and SCOTUS may be one of the very few exceptions).

46

CJColucci 09.21.10 at 2:59 pm

Is elite undergraduate education the real filter? In the field I know most about, law, elite law schools perform real filtering, but the admissions offices in those schools are perfectly well aware (as I wish more parents and potential students were) that there are literally hundreds of places where one can get a first-rate undergraduate education, although not brand names to the larger world, and their graduates are well represented in the elite law schools. I get the impression, though my experience isn’t as trustworthy, that a similar dynamic applies in other fields that require post-graduate education. I suspect that the undergraduate filter works best in lines of work with no clear, or at least terchnical, standards: someone who worked on the Harvard Crimson can parlay that to a better entry-level journalism job than the equally good alumnus of the SUNY Buffalo paper.

47

Myles SG 09.21.10 at 3:01 pm

And I have to disagree with those who say the range includes a lot more than Stanford, Chicago, MIT along with the Ivies, and so-called little ivies. Not when you are talking about who is considered qualified for the ruling classes in the US without finding a way to make a half a billion dollars.

Not all of the Little Ivies. Only top 5 or 6 liberal arts colleges. Even Pomona, which is not Little Ivy/NESCAC but top LAC, is sort of on the edge for this one.

From anecdotal experience, the academic expectations at Ivies/top LACs/etc. are indeed much higher than you would think, and not comparable to top state schools and the like. This is strictly a east-coast phenomenon (excepting Caltech and Claremonts), by the way, as Stanford is universally known to be a slacker school in the arts and humanities. A friend who went to Brown, which is supposed to be the slacker Ivy, had in his first semester five times the homework and readings (or thereabouts) as another who went to UC Berkeley.

And I think you sort of proved my point yourself. The top upper-middle-class candidates from competitive suburban publics or prep schools, who are frankly to college admissions what Kobe beef is to steak-eating, are usually snapped up by the Ivies and the like way before Rochester even lays its hands on them. Schools like Rochester can have, at best, the left-overs (and probably not even that; UVA/UNC/lower LACs/NYU get first dibs on the left-overs, and only then do the Rochesters of the world get to feed on the left-overs).

48

Lemuel Pitkin 09.21.10 at 3:10 pm

Let’s at least try to enumerate the roles limited to Ivy graduates before we leap to conclusions here (and SCOTUS may be one of the very few exceptions).

Yes. While my priors are similar to John Q.’s, it’s probably best to start from a position of agnosticism here. It’s quite possible that the benefit of attending an elite college is much smaller than we think (and than the elite colleges would like us to think!)

It may be that the divide that matters is lower down, between attending a selective college and not attending one. It’s often forgotten that the vast majority of college enrollment in this country is at institutions at which anyone with a high school degree, and money for tuition, is free to enroll. The whole admissions process applies to only a minority. And of course most people never receive a B.A. at all.

Or, it may be that the whole link between higher education and later success is spurious — that both are independently determined by personal characteristics and family background. Is it so far-fetched that people would want to hide inherited privilege behind a meritocratic facade?

Or not. But there are enough people with a strong personal interest in arguing that Harvard is the ticket of admission to the ruling class, that it seems wise to be a little skeptical.

49

Myles SG 09.21.10 at 3:15 pm

Another thing: the way the prestige-system is set up in the U.S., it is indeed fairly cruel. For example, investment banking, usually as good a barometer of prestige as any, recruits at Boston College for middle-office candidates as well as select front-office candidates, as opposed solely front-office candidates at Ivy League colleges and Williams-Amherst. And I mean, it’s not like Boston College is lacking in prestige, but even then the minute differentiations in prestige levels can have a huge impact (you aren’t going to have a career as a prestige merchant banker is you remain in the middle office).

Yet they don’t recruit for back office candidates at Boston College. That is for the Baruch Colleges and SUNYs and Paces of the world. And so on and on it goes.

Also, you’ll notice that at the very absolute peak of the prestige pyramid in the financial community (reputable private equity operators like Carlyle, partners at Goldman Sachs, etc.) there’s a thinning out of even the lower-tier Ivies, including absolutely the Wharton school at Penn, which is the most prestigious undergraduate business program in the U.S. and consequently the one best regarded by the financial community. Instead, such rarefied heights are dominated by Harvard-Yale-Princeton (mostly Harvard and Princeton, actually, due to personal career preferences of Yale alumni) rather than by vulgarians who majored in business at the undergraduate level.

50

Myles SG 09.21.10 at 3:15 pm

Another thing: the way the prestige-system is set up in the U.S., it is indeed fairly cruel. For example, investment banking, usually as good a barometer of prestige as any, recruits at Boston College for middle-office candidates as well as select front-office candidates, as opposed solely front-office candidates at Ivy League colleges and Williams-Amherst. And I mean, it’s not like Boston College is lacking in prestige, but even then the minute differentiations in prestige levels can have a huge impact (you aren’t going to have a career as a prestige merchant banker is you remain in the middle office).

Yet they don’t recruit for back office candidates at Boston College. That is for the Baruch Colleges and SUNYs and Paces of the world. And so on and on it goes.

Also, you’ll notice that at the very absolute peak of the prestige pyramid in the financial community (reputable private equity operators like Carlyle, partners at Goldman Sachs, etc.) there’s a thinning out of even the lower-tier Ivies, including absolutely the Wharton school at Penn, which is the most prestigious undergraduate business program in the U.S. and consequently the one best regarded by the financial community. Instead, such rarefied heights are dominated by Harvard-Yale-Princeton (mostly Harvard and Princeton, actually, due to personal career preferences of Yale alumni) rather than by vulgarians who majored in business at the undergraduate level.

51

More Dogs, Less Crime 09.21.10 at 3:36 pm

I did some googling on whether test-scores underpredict college performance or overpredict. Lots of links indicate that scores underpredict female performance (and overpredict male performance). This paper brings in ethnicity, which I presume would be more class-linked:
http://education.ucsb.edu/rzwick/3185_02_Zwick.pdf
I didn’t read the whole thing, just quickview.

Because this is America, it was harder to find material on social class per se.

52

Map Maker 09.21.10 at 3:38 pm

Myles SG does not have a clue of what he speaks … but it is fun to read!

3 founders of Carlyle went to: 1) Duke undergrad and Chicago Law, 2) Syracuse Undergrad and Harvard MBA, 3) Dartmouth undergrad and Chicago MBA…

FWIW, I looked through the first 15 bios of Carlyle Managing Directors, not a single undergraduate of Harvard, Yale or Princeton … Weslyan, Penn, St. Andrews, SUNY, Duke, Chicago, UVA, Wellesley, etc., etc. I’m sure I’d find a “HYP” undergrad if I looked longer …

US Snooze and World Reports has really screwed with how people view themselves and their self-worth.

53

LFC 09.21.10 at 3:55 pm

Several of the comments above (with the exception of Myles SG) are making a lot of sense. I think CJColucci@46 is largely right in what s/he says about the role of law schools e.g. (as opposed to undergrad).

Re Mapmaker@52: The most unfortunate impact of USNews rankings is not on individuals’ views of themselves but on the people who run colleges and universities and feel compelled to do all kinds of often counterproductive, harmful things (fancy buildings, higher tuition, multimillion-dollar ‘branding’ campaigns) in an effort to raise their ranking.

54

Lemuel Pitkin 09.21.10 at 3:55 pm

whether test-scores underpredict college performance or overpredict.

Sorry, what does this have to do with the topic?

55

Myles SG 09.21.10 at 4:00 pm

Myles SG does not have a clue of what he speaks … but it is fun to read!

Dude, just because I accidentally used Carlyle as an unfortunately inapposite example doesn’t mean you can rebut the whole point therefrom.

Take a look in the ranks of Lazard, Greenhill, Goldman Sachs, and the like.

In the American economy there is no higher plane than the managing directorship of Goldman Sach, or a spot as a leading banker at Lazard. Even most big CEO’s don’t quite rank as high (do most CEO’s get seats as trustees at Harvard?)

56

mpowell 09.21.10 at 4:02 pm

@Map Maker: Myles is obsessed with which initial jobs are available to graduates from different schools because he is an undergraduate. He is also quite enamored with the meritocracy/aristocracy he has created in him mind. He hasn’t yet learned that a lot more happens in the first 10 years of a business career. The initial job is important, but it’s really a minor factor in the long run.

57

someguy 09.21.10 at 4:26 pm

Very preliminary.

So for private enterprise the Ivy leaguers are over represented but not horriblely so and we would kind of except some over representation.

Big 10 public schools produce as many or more CEOs.

On the other hand after a quick look it looks like government appointed positions the Ivies are much more over represented.

Supreme Court as mentioned and since 1980 I got 7-11 for Treasury and 3-11 for Commerce.

Also, I think Cal needs to be included on the school list.

I think it is mistake to just focus on the top 1%. [A lot of that lately.]

How easily can a capable 28 38 year old stuck in a dead end path change his/her path?

What are the prospects for single parent child in the bottom 20%?

Do we filter out bad engineers or just signal that this guy is top x% percent.

58

Uncle Kvetch 09.21.10 at 4:45 pm

Affirmative action in the U.S. (I don’t know about Australia) is never class-based, it is always purely race-based

Completely, utterly untrue — but a highly effective source of right-wing rage, and therefore truthy.

On the race vs. class based affirmative action question, Amherst claims a certain responsibility to search out and admit students from public schools in rural areas in New England where the educational opportunities are far less than in private schools or the better suburban schools. These students will be overwhelmingly, if not exclusively, white.

I had a work-study job in the admissions department of the Ivy that I attended as an undergraduate, and there was a similar commitment to underrepresented populations. I can assure you that class background was a very real factor in admissions decisions there too.

59

burritoboy 09.21.10 at 5:02 pm

The Supreme Court educations are one thing, but nobody has brought up that the traditionally most elite group of American society – WASPS, are actually now under-represented on the Supreme Court?

60

MattF 09.21.10 at 5:04 pm

It was something of a scandal in the late ’60’s when Yale President Kingman Brewster said that admitting women wouldn’t change Yale’s tradition of graduating “a thousand male leaders” every year… but some things just don’t change.

61

alkali 09.21.10 at 5:20 pm

I agree with the general point here, but note for anyone doing back of the envelope calcuations that Harvard/Yale/Stanford Law constitute a much larger percentage of the law school population (about 2%) than the percentage of undergraduates represented by their corresponding undergraduate institutions. Likewise medical and business schools and other graduate schools.

62

Mr_ Punch 09.21.10 at 5:48 pm

Alkali is right about, e.g. law schools.

As for undergraduate programs, it’s true that there is a modal scale for elite undergraduate liberal arts programs, in the range of 4500-6500. There was more variation before the ’70s, but then smaller schools (not just among Ivies, but also Emory, Rice, Tufts and others) went from 2800-3200 to 4400 or so. Most of the top small colleges also expanded significantly (say from 1200 to 1800-2000). This has I think to do with economies of scale — you need a certain number of students to justify/support the full range of expected departments. (In some cases the expansion was accompanied by going coed or by large increases in the proportion of women students.)

Among the Ivies, Penn and Cornell have long been larger than the others, but they are the schools with significant undergraduate enrollment beyond the liberal arts and engineering. Columbia has, I believe, four undergraduate units (College, Engineering, General Studies, Barnard) so it has never been as small as it seemed to those at Columbia College.

63

piglet 09.21.10 at 6:35 pm

“The result seems to be that the ‘top’ German universities don’t stand out so much internationally, but German tertiary education as a whole is at a high standard. AFAIK Germany’s elite don’t have such a reputation for coming from specific universities.”

The very idea of elite vs. non-elite universities has only emerged very recently. I don’t know how far it has now progressed with all the reforms aimed at americanizing the education system but it used to be the case that there was no distinction whatsoever from which university a person attended, and Germany has gotten along fine that way. Maybe there was a distinction between University and Fachhochschule (more like engineering colleges) but I don’t really think so. Also, all institutions of higher education are state institutions, with the exception of a catholic university and a tiny handful of private universities with very small enrollment and they haven’t traditionally had much of a reputation. It must seem an utterly exotic place to Americans. Could as well be in a parallel universe from what I am hearing.

64

Bloix 09.21.10 at 6:58 pm

“nobody has brought up that the traditionally most elite group of American society – WASPS, are actually now under-represented on the Supreme Court?”

Not “under-represented” – not present all. Six Catholics (one Hispanic, one African American), and three Jews (one nominal, but not WASP).

The reason for this, of course, is that it is impossible to find a non-Catholic legal practitioner with the requisite level of skill and prestige who is anti-abortion.

Among well-educated people in the US, individuals who oppose abortion do so almost entirely on religious grounds. There are a number of religious traditions that oppose abortion but are not sufficiently mainstream for their members to be nominated to the Supreme Court, e.g., ultra-Orthodox Jews. That pretty much leaves observant Catholics and fundamentalists. But the fundamentalist tradition is strongly anti-intellectual and places no value on the kind of impersonal, technocratic reasoning that has historically been seen as the hallmark of a Supreme Court justice. And strong fundamentalists have many beliefs that Senators might find unpalatable (the end Rapture for example). Catholicism, on the other hand, has a deep and ancient legal tradition, is reasonably mainstraim on most issues, and turns out many top-drawer candidates for the courts.

So, we had three conservative WASP presidents (Reagan was a WASP in spite of the name) turning to Catholics to fill up the Supreme Court. And now that they’ve have done so, we get complaints that it’s the obligation of an African American Democrat to appoint a WASP to the Court!

65

Myles SG 09.21.10 at 7:24 pm

Not only the abortion issue. There’s also the problematic phenomenon of WASP liberal drift, i.e. Justice Souter, who was supposed to be a conservative but gradually ended up very much a liberal.

With Catholics there tend to not be such a problem, as it’s fairly unlikely for the sort of dilution of both religious and political conservatism to occur, hand in hand, as has been observed in recent years among Northeastern Protestants like Souter.

It should be noted that the two high Catholic justices, Roberts and Alito, were both classicists.

66

Myles SG 09.21.10 at 7:26 pm

I think the problem isn’t so much that it’s hard to find a conservative WASP lawyer to do the job, as the difficulty of guaranteeing his conservatism. The WASP population is in general much too liberal for the conservatives in this country for them to cast their lots with just picking a random WASP. What if he or she turn out to be another Souter? That’s an unconscionable risk.

67

mcd 09.21.10 at 7:34 pm

People don’t go to elite universities and then become elite. People are stratified by birth/parents income/place of residence. Jobs are stratified by vastly different wages/salaries. Universities can be a bridge between the two worlds but they don’t create anything. If all the Ivy Leagues were eliminated, inequality would go on just fine. (the new norm might be to study abroad, for example)

68

More Dogs, Less Crime 09.21.10 at 8:13 pm

Lemuel Pitkin, it was in response to “But, if the US is anything like Australia, entry scores for students from poorer backgrounds underpredict university performance, those from high-status private schools overpredict.”

I’ll add that Thomas was not a Catholic when nominated. He converted later on (as did Bork). After Bork there was a Jewish nominee (Douglas Ginsburg) who withdrew when it was revealed he had smoked marijuana at some point. I don’t know enough about Ginsburg to say whether he would have been a more reliably conservative vote than Kennedy.

The bit about abortion helps explain why Republicans haven’t nominated Protestants (except they did, with Thomas, and GWB attempted to with Miers), but not Dems. There should be liberal Protestants available, like Diane Wood. Republicans could also try a Mormon, but I don’t know how many of them go into that field.

69

Daniel 09.21.10 at 8:20 pm

>>The reason for this, of course, is that it is impossible to find a non-Catholic legal practitioner with the requisite level of skill and prestige who is anti-abortion.
No.

>>Among well-educated people in the US, individuals who oppose abortion do so almost entirely on religious grounds
and No.

There are at least 5,000 Americans who could do the job of the Supreme Court justice. It is really not that demanding a job. Examine a statute, analyze it in context of precedent, reference the written constitution…See, not so hard. Any competent practicing lawyer (or non-Lawyer. Why should the job be restricted to lawyers?) with a bit of life and legal experience can do it.

70

piglet 09.21.10 at 8:34 pm

Caught in moderation?

71

piglet 09.21.10 at 8:37 pm

“The result seems to be that the ‘top’ German universities don’t stand out so much internationally, but German tertiary education as a whole is at a high standard. AFAIK Germany’s elite don’t have such a reputation for coming from specific universities.”

The very idea of elite vs. non-elite universities has only emerged very recently. I don’t know how far it has now progressed with all the reforms aimed at americanizing the education system but it used to be the case that there was no distinction whatsoever from which university a person attended, and Germany has gotten along fine that way. Maybe there was a distinction between University and Fachhochschule (more like engineering colleges) but I don’t really think so. Also, all institutions of higher education are state institutions, with the exception of a catholic university and a tiny handful of private universities with very small enrollment and they haven’t traditionally had much of a reputation. It must seem an utterly exotic place to Americans. Could as well be in a parallel universe from what I am hearing.

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piglet 09.21.10 at 8:55 pm

That’s strange, what could possible have triggered my to stay in moderation? Anyway I was saying that Germany is (or perhaps was) doing just fine without any kind of distinctions between universities. If you want to test that, go to http://www.bundesverfassungsgericht.de/richter.html and check out the biographies of the judges of the Federal Constitutional Court. Most of them don’t even tell you the where, just the year of graduation (there are two, called 1. and 2. Staatsexamen) and of the doctorate and habilitation. Notice the “Prof. Dr.” in most titles. It doesn’t, and shouldn’t, matter where the title was acquired.

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Lyle 09.21.10 at 8:58 pm

As implied in the comments its where you get your professional training (law, medicine etc) or research degree that matters much more than an undergraduate school. If one goes to a top state u or private equivalent its good enough to get one into one of the top professional schools. Once you have that degree it will be the one cited.

74

piglet 09.21.10 at 9:12 pm

The members of the German federal cabinet:

http://www.bundesregierung.de/Webs/Breg/DE/Bundesregierung/Bundeskabinett/bundeskabinett.html

Merkel studied in Leipzig, the Vice Chancellor in Bonn, the others in order of presentation:
Münster und Freiburg; Göttingen und Bielefeld; Freiburg und Hamburg; Johannes Gutenberg Universität Mainz; Göttingen, Münster; Johannes-Gutenberg-Universität Mainz; Medizinischen Hochschule Hannover; Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München; Universität Bonn; Fachhochschule des Bundes Mannheim; Fachhochschule Düsseldorf. Two biographies don’t give a city and one out of 16 hasn’t been to university – Ilse Aigner “Attended technical college, obtained qualification as state-certified electrician”; she’s now Federal Minister of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection.

75

Bloix 09.21.10 at 9:35 pm

More Dogs – Thomas was raised and educated as a Catholic (he went to Holy Cross). He was estranged for a while but formally returned to the chuch a few years after he went on the Supreme Court bench.

Daniel, doing the job of a Supreme Justice well is genuinely difficult and any decent practitioner can tell who’s good and who’s bad. A Stevens opinion is a pleasure to read; a Breyer opinion is a tolerable performance; a Kennedy opinion makes you smack your forehead; an Alito opinion reeks of bad faith.

What you are really saying is that even a shitty justice can do the job of a Supreme Court justice, sort of like how a horse could be a Roman Senator. And that’s true, because when the Supreme Court writes shitty opinions the rest of us have to live with the mess they make (I don’t mean only wrong decisions, I mean stupidly reasoned decisions that muck up the development of the law – these are fairly common).

BUT – the number of people who can do the kinds of jobs that you have to have done in order to become a nominee for the Supreme Court is very small.

Thomas may be the exception who proves the rule. He was nominated for Thurgood Marshall’s seat, and Bush felt the nominee had to be black – Thomas was the only reliably conservative African American with remotely appropriate qualifications that Bush could find. Not surprisingly, he found a Catholic. If Thomas had been white he wouldn’t have been nominated. But even Thomas went to Yale.

76

Jerry Vinokurov 09.21.10 at 10:28 pm

Having attended both UC Berkeley (undergrad) and Brown (grad school), I can confidently assert that Brown students being assigned 5 times the homework of Berkeley students is pure, unadulterated nonsense. As you were.

77

Peter 09.21.10 at 11:12 pm

I suspect we have different types of profession, and reliance on elite prestige varies considerably across them.

Engineering is an example of a field in which elite prestige matters very little. Holders of engineering degrees are in high demand regardless of the universities they may have attended. In part, this is because it requires very high intelligence (a minimum I.Q. score of 120 or even 125) to make it through an engineering program at any university.

78

Jerry Vinokurov 09.21.10 at 11:16 pm

In part, this is because it requires very high intelligence (a minimum I.Q. score of 120 or even 125) to make it through an engineering program at any university.

79

Jerry Vinokurov 09.21.10 at 11:17 pm

In part, this is because it requires very high intelligence (a minimum I.Q. score of 120 or even 125) to make it through an engineering program at any university.

No, it doesn’t.

p.s. sorry for the empty-quote above.

80

John Quiggin 09.22.10 at 12:06 am

Does anyone have any comparable info on the flagship state schools? What little I can see suggests a similar pattern of rising tuition and broadly constant enrolments over several decades. This piece is from a few years back, but suggests that UW doubled its enrolment from 15k just after the war to 30k in the late 1970s, and has stayed the same since then.

http://badgerherald.com/news/2004/09/30/enrollment_numbers_r.php

“Hull says that student enrollment growth has leveled off to around 30,000 students. This has been true since the late ’70s, he noted.”

Wikipedia gives 2009 undergrad enrolment as 29k for Wisconsin-Madison, which I assume is referred to here.

81

Jerry Vinokurov 09.22.10 at 12:15 am

John,

The data for the UC system probably lives here: http://www.ucop.edu/ucophome/uwnews/stat/. It seems to only go back to 1992 though.

82

piglet 09.22.10 at 12:33 am

Some data at http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=98

Total undergraduate enrollment has outpaced population growth but not by much.
What stands out is women enrollment far outpacing males.

83

John Quiggin 09.22.10 at 1:28 am

The UC system has been based, since 1960, on a commitment to offer places to the top 12.5 per cent of state high school graduate. This number was just cut to 9 per cent, offset, but only partly, by more places for students who do best at their local schools

http://bayarea.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/05/28/the-changing-admissions-landscape-at-the-university-of-california/

I know California is a special case. But it appears to me that the state flagships have generally followed the same path as the Ivies, and that the growth in enrolments is driven by second-tier state universities, community colleges and for-profits like Phoenix. Judging by criteria like completion rates, these range from prettygood to dreadful, with the for-profits worst of all.

Overall, I think it’s fair to conclude that consumption per person of high-end (high quality private + state flagship) education in the US has been static or declining since the 1970s. As quite a few commenters have noted, increased access for women has been a big factor from at least the 1970s on.

84

burritoboy 09.22.10 at 1:35 am

John,

There was a massive expansion of flagship state universities for a period of thirty years from the 1940s through the 1970s. But that ceased, and the numbers of undergraduate students at most haven’t expanded much since that time. For example, there were no new University of California campuses opened between 1965 and 2005, which is the longest interval in that system since the 19th century.

85

LFC 09.22.10 at 1:48 am

Myles @64 — you say Roberts and Alito were both classicists.

In fact, Roberts, I believe, wrote his senior honors thesis on late 19th c./early 20th c. British political history, and Alito (I recall from Jan Greenburg’s book Supreme Conflict) wrote his senior thesis on the Italian legal system. They may have studied some Greek and/or Latin along the way, but I don’t think you can call either one a classicist.

86

burritoboy 09.22.10 at 1:51 am

“But the fundamentalist tradition is strongly anti-intellectual and places no value on the kind of impersonal, technocratic reasoning that has historically been seen as the hallmark of a Supreme Court justice.”

I think that’s a bit too strong of a statement. John Ashcroft is a fundamentalist (his father was president of two Bible colleges) and has a law degree from the University of Chicago (as well as his bachelors from Yale).

Your statement may be generally true, but conversely it’s difficult to claim that there are no fundamentalist high-tier lawyers. Or Mormon lawyers, as someone else mentioned. We’re only talking about needing to fill 3-5 seats on the court.

It’s true that Catholics do have reliable reservations on abortion, but it would be no more difficult to find three Catholic leftists (who might still be opposed to abortion, but extremely liberal in all other matters) as it would be to find three Jewish conservatives.

87

piglet 09.22.10 at 1:59 am

“The UC system has been based, since 1960, on a commitment to offer places to the top 12.5 per cent of state high school graduate.”

It should be noted that the official share of high school graduates enrolled in college is around 70%.
http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/04/28/college-enrollment-rate-at-record-high/
That number includes community colleges, which have grown faster than others, but still, compared to 12.5% or even 9% being offered places in the state university? Where are they all enrolled?

88

Myles SG 09.22.10 at 2:55 am

“In fact, Roberts, I believe, wrote his senior honors thesis on late 19th c./early 20th c. British political history, and Alito (I recall from Jan Greenburg’s book Supreme Conflict) wrote his senior thesis on the Italian legal system. They may have studied some Greek and/or Latin along the way, but I don’t think you can call either one a classicist.”

John Roberts did five years of Latin in four years. He can probably read Catullus without cribbing. By our modern, degraded standards, that makes him a classicist among vulgarians.

In any case, not a single non-Catholic classics student I have met is conservative. I would have proved the exception myself, but as it happens I am not majoring in classics. Catholicism and intensive study of Latin, together, is a very good indicator however for conservatism of the sort that can pass intellectual muster on the Supreme Court.

89

Lemuel Pitkin 09.22.10 at 3:26 am

Myles is obsessed with which initial jobs are available to graduates from different schools because he is an undergraduate.

Ah OK, that’s helpful. He really does have the young fogey thing down, tho, doesn’t he? Somehow his comments just ooze brandy and cigars and complaints about the servants.

Still we’ve all known undersocialized right-wing undergrads. Some of them, once they’d gotten laid and/or gotten high, even ended up as decent human beings.

90

John Quiggin 09.22.10 at 3:35 am

Piglet, Wikipedia advises that California has a three-tier system, UC at the top, community colleges at the bottom and the California State system (places for one-third of high school graduates) in between.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_Master_Plan_for_Higher_Education

This was obviously a world-leading system when it was introduced in 1960, but you would have expected a relative expansion of the top end over the subsequent 50 years, not the relative contraction we’ve actually observed.

91

burritoboy 09.22.10 at 3:37 am

“That number includes community colleges, which have grown faster than others, but still, compared to 12.5% or even 9% being offered places in the state university? Where are they all enrolled?”

Piglet, most American states have at least two tiers of state universities. The flagship universities will generally be called “University of [name of state]”. The lower tier universities will generally be called “[name of state] state university”. Generally, the second-tier state university will not have as many graduate programs as the flagship (the flagship will always have a law school and doctoral programs, but the second-tiers only rarely do). The University of California is the upper tier of California’s system. The University of California also has multiple campuses, which range widely in reputation and social cache. In general, the most highly regarded campuses within the UC system (UC Berkeley and UCLA) are the ones who have expanded relatively little in recent decades.

92

burritoboy 09.22.10 at 3:51 am

“This was obviously a world-leading system when it was introduced in 1960, but you would have expected a relative expansion of the top end over the subsequent 50 years, not the relative contraction we’ve actually observed.”

To be very blunt, California was probably the most important epicenter of the New Right in the United States from the 1960s onward. The California New Right absolutely hated the UC system – UC Berkeley, UCLA and UC Santa Cruz were central to the anti-war movement, for instance. Any plan made by Governor Brown and Clark Kerr would have been opposed by the New Right no matter what it included. Reagan’s main campaign issue was to “clean up the mess at Berkeley” (I will leave it to you to imagine what he might have meant). Thus, no new campuses from 1965 to 2005 – and the New Right held the governorship for 32 of those 40 years.

93

Ivy Squash 09.22.10 at 3:59 am

Myles SG said:
“My personal experience, and this is purely anecdotal, is that the recruited athletes in the more middle-class sports (soccer, squash, tennis, rowing, lacrosse) are actually better academically than the median incoming student, at least in the most elite colleges, because they tend to have gone to more demanding preparatory schools (Exeter, Choate, Loomis, etc.) or extremely exclusive public schools (Brookline, Greenwich, etc.) to a far greater extent than the median student.”

As one who played squash and tennis at a little ivy/nescac, went to grad school at an ivy, and now teaches at a different little ivy/nescac, I couldn’t disagree with this more. My teammates on the squash team in particular were woefully underprepared, but it didn’t matter. They were there to play squash. Tennis a bit less so (this is due to the nature of how American/Intl. squash works). As for lacrosse (and hockey), these students are generally *by far* the weakest at where I teach, and were the same at where I went to grad and undergrad.

The only thing you can say about these students is that they came from wealth and privilege. They are, generally speaking, the dullard ‘bros whom I am never happy to have in my classes.

94

Peter 09.22.10 at 4:29 am

Piglet, most American states have at least two tiers of state universities. The flagship universities will generally be called “University of [name of state]”. The lower tier universities will generally be called “[name of state] state university”. Generally, the second-tier state university will not have as many graduate programs as the flagship (the flagship will always have a law school and doctoral programs, but the second-tiers only rarely do).

In some states, the [name] State University is the land-grant institution, founded as the agricultural and technical university and in many cases still specializing in those subjects. This rule isn’t hard and fast, as some states’ land-grant universities have entirely different names (Indiana = Purdue, Texas = Texas A&M, South Carolina = Clemson, Alabama = Auburn). In Pennsylvania, Penn State University is the flagship (the University of Pennsylvania is private).

The bottom tier of state universities are known as “directionals” in many states, as their names include a compass direction, e.g. North Texas State University, Western Kentucky University. Some of these institutions were originally founded as 2-year teacher’s colleges (“normal schools”) , becoming 4-year institutions with wider educational missions starting mostly after World War II.

95

Pierre 09.22.10 at 5:57 am

I believe that Princeton is going to significantly expand its undergraduate class (it might have already), by something like 20%-25%. Of course this is just the proverbial drop in the ocean.

Anecdote: I have a friend who is a Professor at Harvard, and his son, who is extremely smart, wanted to go to an Ivy League school. My friend told him to forget it; the chances of getting in to these places are infinitesimal. He ended up at Caltech.

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superdestroyer 09.22.10 at 12:03 pm

People have to understand that the real purpose of the Ivies and the Ivy likes is to give people a good chance of succeeding in log-normal career fields such as law, academics, consulting, nvestment banking. Of course, people need to understand what a log-normal distribution is and need to understand that some career fields are structured to have a few very high paid individuals or a few very influential individuals and many failures (a few law students get hired by big law firms but over 50% of law school graduates never work in the legal field. This is the opposite of a normally career fields such as nursing, dentistry, or cardiology, where a Harvard educated dentist is not reimbursed any more than any other dentist.

When one realizes that the Ivy league does not really produce pharmacist, veterinarians, or speech pathologist, then one can see that normally distributed careers is something that the Ivy leaguers are not interested in.

Since the long-normal career fields are already overcrowded, adding more Ivy Leaguers is a waste of time. A doubling of Ivy Leaguers to 200K would not increased the number of jobs in journalism, Big Law, consulting. It would just make them harder to get. Since every tenured track academic positions are all national job searcher why double the number of people looking for such jobs.

My guess is that in France or England, many of the top university students end up in normally distributed career fields (such as civil servants) that the Ivy Leaguers just do not produce.

Also, if the number of students are the Ivy Leaguers are doubled, then the value of a degree at Rice, Vanderbilt, Duke, Tulane, Emory will lose value. It truly is a zero sum game.

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Bloix 09.22.10 at 12:24 pm

John Quiggin, #89 and BurritoBoy, #91 – Brad DeLong vigorously disagrees with you on the facts. http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2008/05/alma-mater-blog.html

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y81 09.22.10 at 1:17 pm

Bloix (@94), thanks for finding that DeLong piece. That is the piece I mentioned previously comparing Harvard to a Yugoslav worker-owned factory. I think DeLong makes a good case that the University of California has behaved very differently, and in a more socially beneficial fashion, than Yale and Harvard.

It would be interesting to see a more detailed analysis of the behavior over the past half century of other state university systems. One would want to distinguish between those that upgraded their normal schools and those that expanded the number of campuses of their flagship university (although both activities may have been beneficial).

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Jerry Vinokurov 09.22.10 at 1:47 pm

By our modern, degraded standards, that makes him a classicist among vulgarians.

I don’t know if I should be amused or horrified at the fact that the arcane notion that being able to read Latin somehow elevates you above the barbarians persists into this day and age. I took several years of Latin and I would give a lot to have those years back to spend on a language that was actually useful.

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piglet 09.22.10 at 2:34 pm

The flagship universities will generally be called “University of [name of state]”. The lower tier universities will generally be called “[name of state] state university”.

The bottom tier of state universities are known as “directionals” in many states, as their names include a compass direction, e.g. North Texas State University, Western Kentucky University.

Thanks for that clarification. I’ve long been confused about almost identical names. Now from what has been said, is it fair to say that only about 10, perhaps at most 15% of young Americans are educated in what are regarded top-tier institutions, and perhaps 1% in Ivy Leagues? We have to take into account those who drop out of high school and those who never finish their degree so maybe I am overestimating.

And another question for the knowledgeable, speaking in business terms, are the lower-tier institutions trying to offer the same product at a lower cost and quality, or are they offering a different product? Referring purely to 4-year undergraduate education.

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y81 09.22.10 at 3:57 pm

“are the lower-tier institutions trying to offer the same product at a lower cost and quality, or are they offering a different product?”

That seems kind of metaphysical. Is an Impala the same product as a Mercedes, at a lower cost and quality, or is it a different product?

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Pat 09.22.10 at 4:18 pm

He really does have the young fogey thing down, tho, doesn’t he?

Myles tries the act, but he lacks the “old money” demureness and responsibility to society that I suppose results when wealth is land. His goal is to trade derivatives and get conspicuously obnoxiously rich without ever interacting with the people who sweat for him. That way you can bleed the stupid peasants dry!

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Lemuel Pitkin 09.22.10 at 4:25 pm

His goal is to trade derivatives and get conspicuously obnoxiously rich

I don’t know. Posting lots of comments on CT isn’t an obvious step, if that’s the plan.

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Pat 09.22.10 at 4:43 pm

I don’t know. Posting lots of comments on CT isn’t an obvious step, if that’s the plan.

I would explain it to you, old boy, but that would be teeeeeedious.

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Lemuel Pitkin 09.22.10 at 5:12 pm

is it fair to say that only about 10, perhaps at most 15% of young Americans are educated in what are regarded top-tier institutions, and perhaps 1% in Ivy Leagues?

An annual college-age cohort is currently 4.3 million people.

In 2007-08 (the last year available), American colleges and universities granted a bit over 1.5 million BAs, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. So that’s 36 percent of young Americans who get four-year degrees at all. 750,000 get associate degrees (some of whom will then go to four-year schools) and maybe another million leave without a degree. So that’s a third with some higher education but no BA, and a third or a bit less who don’t attend college at all.

Of those BAs, two-thirds are from public schools and one-third are from private. NCES doesn’t break down the schools any more finely than that. One very rough proxy for at least somewhat selective institutions would be degrees in the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences, which together account for about one-third of BAs. (The majority of BAs are in business, education, and other pre-professional fields.) For the Ivies and Ivy-likes, we can use John Q.’s 100,000 undergraduates, or 25,000 annual BAs.

From which I conclude that Piglet’s guesses are pretty good. About two-thirds of young Americans get some college education, about one-third get a BA, maybe 10% get a liberal-arts education, and about 0.5% get an Ivy education.

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burritoboy 09.22.10 at 6:00 pm

“I have a friend who is a Professor at Harvard, and his son, who is extremely smart, wanted to go to an Ivy League school.”

Then, most likely, his kid was misinformed or a smart aleck, rather than being truly extremely smart. The Ivy League distinction for undergraduates is the social networking aspects, which are truly incomparable. The academic aspects for undergraduates are considerably better at the liberal-arts colleges and a few places like the University of Chicago or CalTech. And the reality is that the liberal arts colleges and the University of Chicago are comparably much easier to get into (though still quite difficult, of course).

Though what you say of course supports John’s theorem – American higher education is readily available (and high-quality academic experiences are reasonably available), but the per-capita supply of high educational status has actually shrunk considerably.

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burritoboy 09.22.10 at 6:11 pm

“One would want to distinguish between those that upgraded their normal schools and those that expanded the number of campuses of their flagship university (although both activities may have been beneficial).”

I believe that very few normal schools have ever been upgraded to full-tier universities though most have been turned into the second-tier of state university systems. California is actually unusual in opening a substantive number of campuses on it’s first-tier, and been unusually successful at making (some of) the new campuses well-respected institutions (especially UCSD but also UC Davis). Most states have not added new flagship campuses, and those that have, the new campuses are not even remotely in the same league as the founding flagship.

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Pat 09.22.10 at 6:18 pm

People have to understand that the real purpose of the Ivies and the Ivy likes is to give people a good chance of succeeding in log-normal career fields.

I like this comment, superdestroyer. I got my undergrad at an Ivy, and the director of undergrads for the department said something to the effect of, “we’re not in the business of producing geologists, we’re producing members of society.” (Of course, I’m off geologing.)

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Myles SG 09.22.10 at 6:25 pm

His goal is to trade derivatives and get conspicuously obnoxiously rich without ever interacting with the people who sweat for him. That way you can bleed the stupid peasants dry!

I have no intention of being Donald Trump.

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Myles SG 09.22.10 at 6:29 pm

In any case, not to double down on the obnoxiousness, but frankly trading derivatives (or bonds, or commodities, or whatever) is the only line in business that does not involve the sort of grubbiness and backslapping of which Donald Trump and the like are so inordinately fond, and does not involve dealing with normal businessman (that word is an abomination).

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LFC 09.22.10 at 6:33 pm

burritoboy:The Ivy League distinction for undergraduates is the social networking aspects, which are truly incomparable. The academic aspects for undergraduates are considerably better at the liberal-arts colleges and a few places like the University of Chicago or CalTech.

This statement is much too sweeping. The Ivy with which I’m most familiar has in recent years increased the number of small classes and improved its undergrad advising (and others have probably done the same). If I had to do it over again, I would probably go to a small liberal-arts college, but a blanket statement that the academics are “considerably better” at small colleges than the Ivies is, I think, an exaggeration that does not comport with the available (and no doubt ambiguous) evidence.

Much would depend, I suspect, on what one intends to study; it may be, for example, that in the natural sciences some research opportunities for undergrads are available at the Ivies or other larger universities that aren’t available at smaller places b/c of budgets, lab space, or whatever. I’m not a scientist (to put it mildly), so I’m just speculating here. In any case, the statement in question is the kind of sweeping generalization that students applying to colleges should be wary of.

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AcademicLurker 09.22.10 at 6:45 pm

At the upper tier SLACS, availability of meaningful research opportunities in the sciences for undergrads is the rule rather than the exception.

At larger universities, it varies by institution (and by the initiative of individual undergrads).

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piglet 09.22.10 at 6:56 pm

“Is an Impala the same product as a Mercedes, at a lower cost and quality, or is it a different product?”

It’s the same product category (Sedan passenger car). A truck, or a tractor, or a van would be different products.

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y81 09.22.10 at 7:11 pm

“The Ivy League distinction for undergraduates is the social networking aspects, which are truly incomparable.”

People say this, but it’s either not true or not interesting, depending on exactly what it means. If it means that at Yale or Princeton one meets interesting, bright people who like to drink and have casual sex, and that interesting conversations and experiences result, then that is true, though it is probably also true at many less prestigious universities. If it means that one or two of your classmates will probably become at least mildly famous, and that you can refer to yourself as having “been at Yale with Akhil Amar [or Jodie Foster]” or some such, then that is true, but so what. (I don’t think I ever met Akhil Amar, though I met Jodie Foster once or twice.)

If it means that you meet people who are likely to be useful in later life, then it’s mostly not true. If you are a young law firm associate or investment banking analyst, your recent classmates are of no use whatsoever. They are working at the junior levels at other law firms or banks. The useful people are, first, the partners or managing directors at your own job, and, second, the firm’s clients or customers, all of whom are much older than you. Only as you get near 40 do people your own age become professionally useful, and it highly unlikely that someone you knew at college has ended up in the same niche as you (e.g., toxic tort defense, or CMBS resecuritization, or life insurance company debt underwriting, or whatever narrow specialty you have ended up with). Your clients or customers will be people you met during your professional life, not friends from college.

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burritoboy 09.22.10 at 7:22 pm

“The Ivy with which I’m most familiar has in recent years increased the number of small classes and improved its undergrad advising (and others have probably done the same). “

Liberal-arts colleges (well, the best ones anyway) don’t even have this as a problem, much less being an actual major difficulty that they have to make huge efforts to attempt to fix (and that attempt may not be successful). My two advisers were not just department chairs, but expended very substantial efforts on advising. One of them kept in touch with all his (hundred+) advisees over the course of his many decades at ye olde alma mater.

“Much would depend, I suspect, on what one intends to study; it may be, for example, that in the natural sciences some research opportunities for undergrads are available at the Ivies or other larger universities that aren’t available at smaller places b/c of budgets, lab space, or whatever.”

Actually, the better-funded liberal arts colleges have vastly more research opportunities for undergrads – there aren’t any grad students to staff the labs, so the undergrads work closely with the professors on the professors’ research projects. It was bog-standard common to co-write papers with professors, something most students at research institutions will only get to do at the graduate school level (if then). One of my classmates co-wrote a book with a professor while she was still an undergrad. The labs may be smaller and less well funded, but the undergrads get all of the benefits of the labs, rather than get some fraction of the benefits of larger and better funded labs.

There is a reason why SLAC’s produce substantially more science PhD’s among their alumni than do the Ivy Leagues.

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burritoboy 09.22.10 at 7:52 pm

“Your clients or customers will be people you met during your professional life, not friends from college.”

No, I don’t think you get it. Your immediate friends in college will likely not be useful to you in a near-term sense. But having highly-placed friends even whom are in a different industry often proves highly useful – they themselves may not be in a niche useful for you, but they know the person at their firm who is. (Your friend researches healthcare equities, and you want to talk to the guy who’s the investment banker for industrials – your friend most likely knows that guy well enough to provide a reasonably warm intro).

As importantly (or more importantly) than following up on leads generated by your seniors is being able to generate new leads on your own. Showing you can independently make rain and want to make rain is a huge deal. Sure, if you have other routes to doing this, then your college is less relevant. Unfortunately, those other routes often take a lot of time that you often just don’t have post-college.

Beyond that, alumni networking is a huge deal. It’s very important: if you can come into an interview having already talked to a bunch of people in the firm and drop their names, you’re already having a different conversation than saying “I want to work here because of [something anyone can read off your website]”. Further, a lot of firms have very specific ties to very specific universities – it’s actually relatively uncommon that firms will try to recruit equally from a large number of schools. Often, recruiting focuses will precisely revolve around alumni ties.

“If you are a young law firm associate or investment banking analyst, your recent classmates are of no use whatsoever. They are working at the junior levels at other law firms or banks.”

Which can be quite useful on it’s own – they’re going to be telling you what groups at their firms are hiring or firing, giving you first-hand trustworthy opinions on what working in those firms is like, how and whom their firm likes to hire, what to say in interviews and so on. This is all intangible data which you’re quite unlikely to get elsewhere.

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John Quiggin 09.22.10 at 8:36 pm

@LP These estimates look good. And, if we take the California plan of 1960 as representative of (at least the aspirations of) US higher education during the postwar boom, it seems reasonable to conclude that access to top-tier (state flagship + high-end private) education has been more or less stable (top 10 per cent) since then, probably expanding until the late 1970s, and contracting subsequently, with access the very high end (Ivies and comparable) becoming significantly harder.

That’s consistent with what’s happening to income distribution overall.

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burritoboy 09.22.10 at 9:10 pm

Though we should note that the SLAC’s are an absolutely tiny player in this game – the top 10 SLACS together only have something like 10-15,000 slots available.

“And, if we take the California plan of 1960 as representative of (at least the aspirations of) US higher education during the postwar boom”

Don’t assume that that is the case. California had a lot of unique characteristics in that time period that may not translate well to the other states. Further, the plan only was meaningful for a few years and it’s writer was fired by the next governor of the state. Most of the plan’s impact was precisely in a short time-frame when Clark Kerr and Pat Brown rapidly expanded the system. Except for one campus, all new campuses between 1920 and 2004 were opened by Kerr in a span of five years. (The previously vestigial campuses at Santa Barbara and Davis were rapidly expanded post-War, however, but not really in a planned fashion).

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Bill Gardner 09.22.10 at 9:17 pm

John @117: access to top-tier (state flagship + high-end private) education has been more or less stable…

Possibly in California. Ohio State, and I believe the other Big 10 schools, has shifted from an essentially open access institution to one with significant selection. These ostensibly ‘public’ schools may also be transitioning toward a quasi-private status. My sense is that they are less dependent on taxpayer subsidies, and increasingly self-financed from tuition, endowments, and income derived from football teams and hospital systems.

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piglet 09.22.10 at 9:59 pm

“My sense is that they are less dependent on taxpayer subsidies”

Yes, state support has been eroding for a long time. Shouldn’t be hard to find numbers on that. And this has far-reaching consequences. Publicly funded education is one area where the middle class can identify with the common good. The (decimated) American middle class nowadays has the feeling that the state isn’t doing anything for them (wrong), and in turn they retreat into their gated communities, furiously opposed to the very idea of paying taxes to pay for the provision of public goods.

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Natilo Paennim 09.22.10 at 11:42 pm

I think one of the things that has been elided in the discussion above is the huge impact that regional cultural differences have in determining what is “elite” in any given US context. When you look at the ranks of state government, you’re almost always going to find a preponderance of graduates of that state’s flagship university and its law school. Some Ivies, and quasi-Ivies too no doubt, but there’s just not enough of them to staff every courtroom and senate office. In medicine, it’s a bit different, since doctors tend to be pulled in various directions by specialty. But your big hospital administrators are often also just graduates of the big university closest to the hospital they started out in.

What we’re really talking about with the Ivy-elite is the proportion of people who can parlay being a star running back from some small town in Indiana into a Yale scholarship, who then go to Harvard Law, who come back to Indiana and work their way up at the statehouse until they’re finally in a position to be noticed again by eastern elites. Chancers, in essence. Smarter than average, no doubt, but they’re hardly wasting a lot of time writing sonnets or going to Spain for graduate studies.

Most of the really intelligent people from small towns in Indiana are, of course, going to stay right there. Not because they’re so intelligent, but because there’s only so many spots for the elite of the elites to fill. A few of them will gain national recognition because they’re the biggest fish in their small ponds, but mostly they’re not going to be fighting for those spots, because they’ve got their plates full with the business of being a member of the regional elite. In fact, in certain regions, there’s a pretty strong disincentive to take a chance on becoming a member of the national elite. People don’t say “putting on airs” too much anymore, but they think it. It’s a rare Alabaman or North Dakotan who’s going to push to get into that lofty company. New Yorkers and Californians and Massachusettsers take it for granted that some of their own are going to get big.

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burritoboy 09.22.10 at 11:50 pm

“Publicly funded education is one area where the middle class can identify with the common good. “

The problem that many Europeans have understanding the entire ecology of American higher education is that it’s not a system of any sort whatsoever. It operates much like, and as poorly as, the American healthcare system (another fake market, essentially, and the two things share a lot of similarities). Very few non-Americans realize there is actually no central direction of the ecology at all.

The problem is that American universities strongly reject the much cheaper continental European university model.

That’s because the lack of any central control means each university / college needs a huge managerial apparatus that guides that specific institution in competing with others. The individual US states could increase subsidies to their universities, but it’s radically unclear if that would have any positive effects. A lot of money would be used to shore up the managerial apparatus’ status – effectively, they’ll simply build more stuff for themselves to manage and continue to entrench themselves. Without central planning, the individual public institutions will be forced to continue pricing education as a Veblen good.

There was actually a reason why the Framers were strongly advocating for national universities.

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Lemuel Pitkin 09.22.10 at 11:53 pm

The individual US states could increase subsidies to their universities, but it’s radically unclear if that would have any positive effects.

Newt Gingrich couldn’t have put it better.

Me, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that if states increased subsidies to public universities, we would have better, more accessible public universities. Crazy I know.

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burritoboy 09.23.10 at 12:22 am

Natilo,

Your picture actually is not very descriptive of the current United States. The problem is that you’re describing an economy that did at one time exist in the United States: first, an agricultural economy and later an industrial economy far-flung around a huge country. That meant that most American states had viable internal economies: there would be their agricultural sector as well as an industrial sector. What that means is there were plenty of (fairly similar) jobs across the country in most states – there were industrial plants in many places, and thus the same range of jobs within the industrial hierarchy in most places. There were naturally more corporate HQ jobs in New York, but the effects weren’t that drastic then (even capital markets were more geographically spread out then). Working for General Motors in Michigan was just as prestigious as working for United Technologies in Connecticut or Boeing in Washington or US Steel in Indiana. Among industrial firms, there wasn’t much variation in status, basically most firms of a similar size would have similar status, regardless of which part of the industrial economy they were in.

The primary determinant of status then (if you had corporate employment) was what rank you were in a corporate hierarchy – and that hierarchy was available in most states. Since industrial firms were widely flung, most cities had a number of big industrial firms that each local professional services community would live off of. There were a few cities that had more status, but apart from those, most American cities then were relatively similar in status. (And salaries within the corporate hierarchies then were not massively higher in New York than elsewhere – in general, there was not that level of variation).

That’s of course completely the reverse now. The Indiana boy would not be in a backwater before 1970 or so – Indiana had roughly the same job opportunities as New York did. The divergence in pay wasn’t particularly large then either.

The divergences after 1970 was what caused the value of an Ivy League degree to go up: pay in professional services went up, most heavy industries cratered or disappeared, the professional services concentrated into a few places and so on.

So…….

Indiana in 1950: working for US Steel in Gary was just as prestigious and more or less as well paid as most jobs anywhere else.

Indiana in 2010: There are essentially no jobs in Indiana that match the earning potentials of jobs elsewhere. Indeed, due to de-industrialization, the quality of most jobs in Indiana has declined, while the quality of jobs in professional services in the world cities has drastically risen.

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burritoboy 09.23.10 at 12:30 am

“Me, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that if states increased subsidies to public universities, we would have better, more accessible public universities. Crazy I know.”

The question is whether the increased subsidies to public universities would be directed into increased number of undergraduate slots at any sort of a reasonable price. I’m not certain that we need better public universities as much as we need more slots at them. (Of course, better is good too – but I’d rather see Michigan add a lot more undergraduate capacity rather than doing the things Michigan will likely see as making itself better).

Just giving universities more money does not mean they will add more slots. These are Veblen goods – the best public universities have incentives to reduce (or at least not increase) undergraduate slots as much as possible (the harder to get in, the more prestigious, the more prestigious the more the alumni and parents give, the more donations the more for the administrators to play with, etc).

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Myles SG 09.23.10 at 12:46 am

Indiana in 1950: working for US Steel in Gary was just as prestigious and more or less as well paid as most jobs anywhere else.

And this is a good thing, how? Is it really some sort of normative good that the U.S. can’t benefit from the cluster effects of clustering economic elite activities in certain areas, and the innovation that arises therefrom? (New York, DC, Boston, Chicago, LA, SF)

Pretty much all the innovations and so on that which kept the U.S. a economic superpower after 1970s happened on the coasts. Wal-Mart’s headquarters jobs are not going to make U-S-A! any more resonant a chant, but Apple’s campus in Cupertino continues to be a beacon of the possibilities of America, unto the world.

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Lemuel Pitkin 09.23.10 at 3:04 am

The question is whether the increased subsidies to public universities would be directed into increased number of undergraduate slots at any sort of a reasonable price. I’m not certain that we need better public universities as much as we need more slots at them. (Of course, better is good too – but I’d rather see Michigan add a lot more undergraduate capacity rather than doing the things Michigan will likely see as making itself better).

Yes, this is all true.

Just giving universities more money does not mean they will add more slots.

But it does make it much, much more likely.

Especially today, when the actual-existing alternatives to public support for public universities are (a) tuition subsidies (i.e. vouchers) to individuals, to use at the institution of their choice (increasing its tuition costs more or less pro tanto) and (b) no support for higher ed at all, let the market do what it will — for someone on the left to suggest that direct support of public higher ed is the problem, is almost willfully perverse.

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TGGP 09.23.10 at 4:39 am

“It’s true that Catholics do have reliable reservations on abortion, but it would be no more difficult to find three Catholic leftists (who might still be opposed to abortion, but extremely liberal in all other matters) as it would be to find three Jewish conservatives.”
I looked in the GSS, among Protestants, Catholics & Jews with some post-grad education. Those who identified as extremely liberal were 54.3 percent Protestant, 21.1 Catholic and 24.6 Jewish. Extreme conservatives were 80 Protestant, 17.8 Catholic and 2.2 Jewish. Simply liberal (which is past “slightly liberal) was 54.1 Protestant, 31.9 Catholic and 14 Jewish. Simply conservative was 71.5 Protestant, 25.9 Catholic and 2.6 Jewish.
Extreme liberals totaled 97 in the sample, extreme conservatives 87, just “liberal” (which is between “slightly” and “extremely”) totaled 524, just conservative 605. That gives the right slightly larger pools, but lawyers are likely to the left of all those with some graduate education. I also left out people who identify with any religion, which would give a larger pool for the left. I’ll follow it up by looking at how Catholics who identify as liberal/extremely liberal feel about abortion on demand.

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TGGP 09.23.10 at 4:43 am

49 percent of those liberal/extremely liberal Catholics said a pregnant woman should be able to obtain an abortion if she wants it for any reason. 51 percent said no.

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superdestroyer 09.23.10 at 11:30 am

burritoboy,

All you are doing it arguing the point I was making about log-normal versus normally distributed career fields. The U.S. now looks down upon normally distribted career fields and leaves those career fields no matter how well paying to immigrants and the middle class. The upper middle class is fighting for one of the few log-normally distributed jobs. A few of them get into Harvard or Yale law but many of them end up living in Manhattan or Williamsburg while subsidized by their parents.

The whole point of an Ivy is to get a chance of a log-normal career. Going to Princeton may be good for networking in the consulting world but Bain or McKinsey will not give anyone an interview unless they attended an Ivy league or Ivy like School. The degree gets you in the door independent of the networking.

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Bloix 09.23.10 at 3:06 pm

TGGP: Yes, indeed, many Catholics hold liberal positions on abortion. It’s not hard to find a Catholic lawyer or judge who supports Roe (presumably Sotomayor is one, and Kennedy hasn’t abandoned Roe although he doesn’t like it much).

But if you’re looking for a judge who can write intelligently about antitrust and securities law, who can be persuasive about tax and bankruptcy and criminal procedure, who has the patience and ability to parse RICO and ERISA and CERCLA and FOIA, and who is also dead set against abortion, you’re very likely to come up with a Catholic.

I suppose I’m harping on one of my usual themes on this blog: culture matters.

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y81 09.23.10 at 3:57 pm

@124: As with so much of what burritoboy says, this is quite plausible, it just happens to be sharply at variance with the actual facts as known by the people on the ground. There are a lot fewer corporate headquarters in New York City than there were 50 years ago. In fact, almost no industrial, tech, or retailing companies are headquartered in New York City; it’s solely financial services, media and fashion.

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Norwegian Guy 09.23.10 at 5:23 pm

Just giving universities more money does not mean they will add more slots.

Maybe I’m being naive here, but couldn’t you just give universities more money on the condition that they add more slots?

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burritoboy 09.23.10 at 9:58 pm

“But it does make it much, much more likely.”

No, it doesn’t (at least at any sort of reasonable cost structure). There’s every indication that America’s top-tier public universities perceive more undergraduate slots as a negative. They certainly haven’t made expanding access much of a priority with their current budgets – they have plenty of cash flow for non-productive uses (edifice building, cushy administrative positions and other peripheral nonsense) but overall have made little effort on their own to increase access in any serious way.

“Maybe I’m being naive here, but couldn’t you just give universities more money on the condition that they add more slots?”

You’re being naive. If you ask an American university how much they need to add more slots, they’ll present you with a ludicrous figure that’s actually 3-6 times what the cost structure should be. Probably if you give them the money they request, they’ll underperform even their own projections – they’ll go over-budget on the new buildings and so on.

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Salient 09.23.10 at 10:34 pm

“If you ask an American university how much they need to add more slots, they’ll present you with a ludicrous figure that’s actually 3-6 times what the cost structure should be.”

Well, American (public) universities are starving nowadays, even as pressure mounts to add more slots (and just as importantly, to provide services which ensure that incoming freshmen don’t drop out). Heck, in 2 of the 3 classrooms in which I teach, I have to provide my own chalk, erasers, and/or markers. On a graduate student’s salary, that’s not completely insignificant, and it’s a sign of just how desperate administrators are to save a nickel anywhere they can. Annual budget reductions, sometimes in the neighborhood of 5-7%, with expectations to maintain current enrollment, are the norm; and I hear “do more with less” all the time now. Small wonder that enrollment isn’t increasing!

In 1 of the 3 rooms, I have to provide my own laptop computer in order to project computer files (the other two don’t have computers but you can get a computer cart when you need one). I’m not allowed to distribute copies of anything that I think might be helpful for student learning unless it runs under 50 pages total (for 90 students), because we have so little money for copies. Our university-wide retention program is sorely understaffed and doesn’t respond to queries in nearly the amount of time we need them to to be at all effective. And this isn’t podunk U — I teach at the flagship university of my state, which is Top 300 among public institutions in the world according to the blah blah whatever whatever thing. Things are worse elsewhere.

Oh, and there’s the fact that many departments are looking to increase the number of graduate students they take in, because they’re cheaper than lecturers with Ph.D.s in hand, who are in turn cheaper than adjuncts, who are in turn cheaper than assistant professors. So, students at state schools are increasingly getting their course lectures taught by second-year and third-year graduate students rather than by professors.^1^

Either a fresh-minted second-year TA is just as good at teaching content as a professor (something I severely doubt just from looking at my own improvements from my first year to my third — and I’ve had prior teaching experience), or the undergraduate students who do make it through their state’s eye of the needle are getting increasingly screwed by that particular cost-cutting measure. And by others. Which means the value of a state-flagship education becomes more and more tilted toward status marking.

So I say bring on the inflated projection, that air could help us breathe a bit.

^1^Does not hold for all states. For example, I admire Wisconsin’s restraint in not following this deprofessionalization path. (I might also petulantly believe that this is at least partly because Wisconsin graduate students are unionized.) Full disclosure: I was the course lecturer for a 100-level course for one semester of my second year of grad school, and that’s fairly normal where I teach now.

136

F 09.23.10 at 11:18 pm

Unionization has done nothing to stem the tide of deprofessionalization at many other schools (Harvard, Yale, Washington, all the U of Californias, Illinois).

In my state’s flagship school, inflation-adjusted cost per undergraduate has remained largely constant for over 20 years, but the share contributed by the state has steadily dropped to the point where it now makes up less than half of the total, even once you have removed grants and contracts and med school revenue from the budget. As a share of the total budget, the state appropriation is 10%.

137

Natilo Paennim 09.24.10 at 1:31 am

burritoboy @ 124:

Apparently I failed to make my point clear. What I was attempting to argue is that, for the very topmost section of the elites — say the 3,000 people who are at the very centers of power — the question of the role of Ivy and near-Ivy credentialing is salient, and will remain so, regardless of region. But, I would argue, for a large chunk of what I would consider the elite, that credentialing is often irrelevant, especially in the hinterlands.

Take all of the state legislatures, the top bureaucrats in each state government, the biggest lobbyists and the partners of white-shoe law firms in each state capitol, add to that all the municipal leaders — elected and civil service — in the 50 or 100 largest cities, plus the unofficial power brokers such as wealthy philanthropists and big property developers in those cities, and you’re talking about another 100,000 people or more, easily. And for a lot of those people, say, the most important civil servant in St. Louis, or the biggest property developer in Denver, Ivy credentialing might be nice, but it’s certainly not make-or-break. That’s not to say Ivy grads won’t be over-represented in those venues, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that their over-representation was matched or even exceeded by graduates of local flagship universities (and especially the law and business programs of those universities.)

Concentrate power as you will, there’s just no way to make it so that the president of the Houston city council is going to live in Connecticut and commute in to Manhattan to work.

138

Myles SG 09.24.10 at 3:19 am

the biggest lobbyists and the partners of white-shoe law firms in each state capitol

You are kidding me, right? White-shoe law was originally was a term specifically for lawyers who work on Wall Street, and perhaps today could refer to lawyers in New York, Boston, and DC, but even the most expansive definition could not call anyone outside the big four corporate law centers of the country (New York, District of Columbia, Chicago, Los Angeles) plus Boston and San Francisco “white shoe”.

By the “white shoe” standard, the partners in state capitals (Columbus, OH? Bismarck, ND? Pierre, SD? Boise, ID? Spare me) are no better than a fatter and better-fed version of normal lawyers.

The phrase white shoe referred originally to the fact that Wall Street partners were so wealthy that they could afford to wear white shoes, which essentially required a servant or whatever to polish everyday, to work, especially back in the 19th century when streets were anything but clean. It was an indication of their socioeconomic status that they could upkeep personal servants for the purposes of their wardrobe.

In any case, state legislators aren’t “elite” by any measure. To be “elite” in America it requires that the issue and concern of income and sustenance not even be a real or material one for the person in question.

139

Myles SG 09.24.10 at 3:22 am

A better way to think of the word “elite” in the American context is to compare it to the concept of the “gentleman” in the British context.

140

Lemuel Pitkin 09.24.10 at 6:12 am

There’s every indication that America’s top-tier public universities perceive more undergraduate slots as a negative.

Really? What form do these indications take? Are they something one could link to?

141

ejh 09.24.10 at 9:47 am

A better way to think of the word “elite” in the American context is to compare it to the concept of the “gentleman” in the British context

The contemporary context?

142

SW 09.24.10 at 2:17 pm

Natilo’s comments seems right on to me–someone who lives in a small city in a southeastern US state. There are plenty of smart, ambitious people who don’t want to be players on a national scale. Maybe they’re happier being a big fish in a small pond. Maybe they genuinely love Montana or Arkansas and have no desire to leave it for New York or DC. For those folks, an Ivy League degree doesn’t make as much sense. They might not be elites according to Myles SG’s definition, but they come a hell of a lot closer than the rest of us plebes.

143

Myles SG 09.24.10 at 2:43 pm

The contemporary context?

Yes. E.g. a “gentleman” might work in the City as a merchant banker, but a “gentleman” will not work in retail banking or branch banking.

In America, “elite” lawyers have gone to T14 (top 14) law schools, which is a distinct group like the Ivy League is, and are somewhat unmixed with other lawyers. (Firms tend to be sharply segregated between those firms that hire mostly from T14 schools, and those who do not.)

The really elite lawyers have gone to T5 (top-5) law schools, but that’s more just for pure snobbery than much else in terms of counting prestige, although there is admittedly a marked difference in quality between the students of the T5 and the rest of the T14.

144

Myles SG 09.24.10 at 2:58 pm

Thus you get stories of new graduates from T14 schools who get deferred a year from entering their firms, because there’s a business downturn right now, but the firms that newly hired them would not simply rescind their offers for fiscal reasons. They just get “deferred” a year and get paid $70,000-$80,000 during that year to do, essentially, nothing (except some pro bono work). Shocking as it might sound, it actually costs way more than that figure if they were to go to work; first-year salaries at prestige firms are $145,000 or so, plus an expected $20,000 bonus, plus health insurance and other ancillary charges, the total of which brings the number probably beyond $200,000. Also, it’s traditional in the better-regarded firms to provide a secretary per a certain number of associates, which also costs money.

I think you can immediately recognize the outlines of “gentlemanly” pretensions from the gestures as described above. Firms give people $70,000 a year to do nothing not because they are altruistic, but because they have a genteel and dignified image to uphold at law school career offices, and thus they act in a at least formally genteel manner, not rescinding people, etc. It used to be looked upon as quite vile for the prestige firms to ever lay off lawyers.

There used also to be a distinction between what are regarded as “Anglo-Saxon” or WASP firms, and “Jewish” firms based on notions of how genteel they were. Of course, the ethnic labels mean nothing nowadays, as nearly all firms have a fairly similar ethnic makeup, but the vague sense that some originally and nominally Anglo firms (Cravath, Sullivan & Cromwell) are more gentlemanly than some originally and nominally Jewish firms (Skadden Arps, etc.) persists a little bit.

Anyways, this is why to call some schmuck in some state capitol “elite” would be a bit ludicrous.

145

Castorp 09.24.10 at 4:08 pm

Piglet re: German universities:

You are correct that there is very little distinction between universities in Germany, which has been a deliberate policy in the post-war era. The most important thing about getting a doctorate for your future academic career is who your Doktorvater was. But there certainly is a distinction made between the University and Fachhochschule; getting a degree from the latter is fine for working at Siemens or whatever but if you went into the sciences it would be a big deal and you have to even legally make the disctinction in your title. Also, for science the distinctions are made at the level of whether you do your research for the Max Planck institute etc. and less at what university you teach. I do think the system works to increase mobility, but it does hamper a university’s ability to specialize in something, since it has very little control over who it accepts or doesn’t as long as certain criteria are met. This was a big problem when everyone graduated with a Magister, and is probably still a problem, but I am not up on exactly up on how the institution of bachelor degrees in Germany is affecting things.

146

Map Maker 09.24.10 at 4:52 pm

Myles SG,

You’re going to be in for a real shock when you get to “the real world” …

People with “real money” don’t fit your model at all. As much as Goldman PWM would love only to serve other rich new yorkers, they spend more time then they’ll admit to undergrads slumming to real wealth – real estate and privately owned businesses – which is much more uniformly distributed across the country than traditional economic measures show. Privately owned businesses and real estate owners don’t pay very much in taxes and have strong incentives to appear non-elite to the likes of you (and the IRS)…

147

ejh 09.24.10 at 4:56 pm

Yes. E.g. a “gentleman” might work in the City as a merchant banker, but a “gentleman” will not work in retail banking or branch banking.

What in God’s name are you talking about? Are you mistaking contemporary Britain for Kind Hearts And Coronets?

148

Natilo Paennim 09.24.10 at 6:20 pm

Well, see, this is where we get back to the old problem of talking about class stratification in the US — we all know it’s there, but no one likes to admit to it, and this tends to make the discourse impoverished at best and, as here, incomprehensible at worst.

I realize that “white shoe” originally had a very specific meaning, but I think I’m justified in expanding that to describe whatever the 2 or 3 biggest, most important and most politically connected law firms in any given state happen to be. Who has more power, the Assitant Deputy Undersecretary of Commerce, who went to Harvard and Yale and is chummy with a lot of power players in D.C., or the senior partner at a big law firm in Seattle who has the ear of the governor and the senators and most of the rich people in Washington state? I’m not sure there’s really an answer to that question, because you have to define “elite” before you can answer it. In fact, I think it gets us right back to where we started. If you’re going to define “elite” as “went to the best schools, only eats at the best restaurants, never has to worry about making money”, well then, yes, you’re talking about a set of people who are almost all Ivy-grads or very nearly so. But there is an elite in the US that doesn’t send their children to Swiss boarding schools, who don’t have strong Ivy/WASP/Northeast connections, and who usually don’t care that they don’t.

149

Britta 09.24.10 at 6:37 pm

@Piglet, 109
With regards to your question, it’s a bit of both. I think as others have pointed out, many institutions which are now four year universities were originally agricultural or normal schools, and many of these retain their focus on practical technical or pre-professional training, and often with professional credentialing built into the program. Thus, at many “directional” regional universities or small liberal arts schools, you can major in things like physical therapy, or elementary school education, whereas prestigious private universities generally only grant bachelor’s degrees in the liberal arts and sciences (natural & social sciences and the humanities). A few might offer engineering, and there are some prestigious pre-professional schools, where students might major in “pre-law” or “pre-med” (though these aren’t really considered “Ivy-tier”) but in general it is expected that a student at an elite university will get a degree in something broad like biology or philosophy and then gain specialized credentials in graduate school.
In this way, the system actually does mirror education in Germany though with much less transparency, as all these schools will be called “college” or “university.”

However, there are also many third tier liberal arts schools or comprehensive universities, where students do major in subjects like literature, or physics, etc. Often these schools have a religious affiliation, and sometimes these departments were added as part of the expansion of technical or agricultural schools. Generally speaking, it is students getting a liberal arts degree from a lower tier school are the ones who encounter trouble on the job market, as their degrees are neither immediately practical nor do they signal the elite status a liberal arts degree from a top tier university would.

A huge problem with higher education equality in the US is again a total lack of transparency (since all schools are either “universities” or “colleges,” and public/private distinction is not a clear indication of quality) and an unequal distribution of knowledge about the explicit and implicit hierarchies. In addition, tuition costs are only loosely correlated with quality, so it is not unheard of for students to shell out $100,000 + for a diploma from a third tier private school when they would have been far better off seeking out a much cheaper third tier public school. Beyond Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and maybe Stanford, most top schools (even other Ivies) are relatively unknown to those outside elite circles, and this as much as admissions requirements is a major obstacle to elite education outside of large cities or those from educated families.

Finally, an complete lack of understanding about how tuition works at top schools also serves to keep students out. While top tier private schools are $50,000+ a year, most of these schools have deep pockets and are generous with financial aid, meaning that a middle class student at Harvard will generally go for free, whereas at a state school or a lower tier private school they may be stuck paying tens of thousands a year. In general, if you are considered desirable by a top school, they will make sure you can go there. However, as most people not educated at top schools don’t realize this, many might think “I can’t afford $50,000 even if I did get in” and then don’t bother to apply.

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Myles SG 09.24.10 at 6:49 pm

I’m not sure there’s really an answer to that question, because you have to define “elite” before you can answer it. In fact, I think it gets us right back to where we started. If you’re going to define “elite” as “went to the best schools, only eats at the best restaurants, never has to worry about making money”, well then, yes, you’re talking about a set of people who are almost all Ivy-grads or very nearly so.

The “best schools/best restaurants” thing was superfluous, but quite honestly, how could you possibly ever be considered to be “elite” if you have to ever worry about making money? To be able to not worry about money is a requisite of elite status, tautologically speaking.

151

Myles SG 09.24.10 at 6:58 pm

And I don’t mean it in the “ha! look at those country bumpkins” sort of way, I am genuinely puzzled at how one could possibly be simultaneously elite and sustenance-concerned. That seems to me tautology.

152

piglet 09.24.10 at 7:03 pm

Thanks Britta. I’m a bit confused by your statement “In this way, the system actually does mirror education in Germany” – University education in Germany is way more specialized than US undergraduate education. There isn’t really an equivalent to undergraduate education. There used to be no bachelor, only what here would be considered graduate studies, and even now that they introduced the (3 year) bachelor system my understanding is that those are specialized courses of study, not intended to convey a broad, “well-rounded” education (that is supposed to be provided in Gymnasium). No?

153

piglet 09.24.10 at 7:10 pm

“I am genuinely puzzled at how one could possibly be simultaneously elite and sustenance-concerned. That seems to me tautology.”

If “Elite” were just another word for “rich”, that would indeed be a contradiction (I think that’s what you meant to say instead of tautology). But then we wouldn’t need a special term to describe the elite, as opposed to the rich. In any case, all of this obviously depends on how you define elite.

154

Britta 09.24.10 at 7:27 pm

Piglet, you’re right, it is an imperfect comparison, in that the US is pretty much the only country where the upper tier is supposed to study something superfluous for their career for 4 years before actually beginning job training. I think what I was getting at is the US does have a technical school/university split, where those who want careers like doctor, lawyer, professor, etc. have to go to a university (even if they don’t get immediately credentialed in the subject), yet this split is not made clear to a majority of Americans, so it is possible to go to a (former) technical school assuming it is a university and will confer the same sorts of benefits, only to find out many thousands of dollars later that it is not the case. In Europe, it seems like this difference is much more apparent (e.g. Fachhochsule vs. University).

155

y81 09.24.10 at 7:51 pm

“A huge problem with higher education equality in the US is again a total lack of transparency (since all schools are either “universities” or “colleges,” and public/private distinction is not a clear indication of quality) and an unequal distribution of knowledge about the explicit and implicit hierarchies.”

Yes. Thank God for US News and World Report, which is widely available and explains a good bit of this to those not otherwise “in the know.” Of course, educators hate it and would prefer to pretend that a BA in English from West Texas equals a BA in English from University of Minnesota-Duluth equals a BA in English from Princeton. (Only the last of these will get you a job at JP Morgan Chase in New York.)

156

Salient 09.24.10 at 8:01 pm

And I don’t mean it in the “ha! look at those country bumpkins” sort of way, I am genuinely puzzled at how one could possibly be simultaneously elite and sustenance-concerned. That seems to me tautology.

Myles, you’re defining elite in a very narrow way which doesn’t match our use of the word. You’re then puzzled (and seemingly upset) that we’re using the word in ways which contradict your definition. I would try to help you with your confusion by referring you to a dictionary and quoting its definition “a group of persons exercising the major share of authority or influence within a larger group,” but I wouldn’t want to insult your intelligence.

It seems to me you have some vested personal interest, perhaps an emotional interest, in advocating for a very narrow interpretation of the meaning of the word ‘elite.’ But nobody’s interested. So you might want to pick your battles differently.

157

Norwegian Guy 09.24.10 at 8:26 pm

(Only the last of these will get you a job at JP Morgan Chase in New York.)

But why would JP Morgan Chase hire someone with a BA in English? Their industry is not literature or language. It would make more sense to hire people educated in business or financial economics.

158

Myles SG 09.24.10 at 8:37 pm

But why would JP Morgan Chase hire someone with a BA in English? Their industry is not literature or language. It would make more sense to hire people educated in business or financial economics.

I notice that your name seems to indicate that you are Norwegian, and thus possibly unfamiliar with American society. Well, uhm, this sort of thing, relating to places like JP Morgan Chase, are, uhm, more about class than competence. Thus, your actual area of study doesn’t matter, but where you did your studying, and who you hung out with, does. Also, it is a given, a common understanding, in the U.S. that a English major at Princeton is naturally more intelligent than a business/finance major at Third-Tier State, and would be more suited to a high-intelligence-intensive industry like high finance.

159

Britta 09.24.10 at 9:40 pm

My last comment is stuck in moderation. I’m not certain why, since it was a clarification of my comparison and not otherwise inflammatory or irrelevant, but anyways, in response to y81, to even look at US News and World report requires a certain level of cultural or educational capital that is lacking or unavailable to a far larger portion of the US than most of us realize. My guess is a great majority of Americans are either unaware colleges are ranked or unable to interpret these rankings. Thus, a long list of colleges you a) have heard of and assume are out of your league (really only the top 4 or so on the list) or b) have never heard of (pretty much all the rest in the top two tiers) and have no way of distinguishing between is actually pretty meaningless. Indeed, unless you understand why universities are ranked and the implications behind these rankings, you might not see why a top tier school across the country that is more expensive might in the long run be better than your local third tier college.

There are indeed populations who know almost nothing about the finer points of the US higher education system except the domestic or international rankings (I’m thinking especially of East Asian immigrants) and who apply accordingly. I know Chinese parents who have their children apply to the top ten universities listed on the US News & World Report rankings. However, these people are generally well educated and successful in their home country, and can translate that knowledge, albeit imperfectly, into a US context.

160

piglet 09.24.10 at 9:43 pm

“uhm, more about class than competence.”

Why did it takes us 155 comments to get there?

161

piglet 09.24.10 at 9:45 pm

My guess is a great majority of Americans are either unaware colleges are ranked or unable to interpret these rankings.

That really surprises me. I thought college rankings are among the things that almost all Americans are aware of.

162

burritoboy 09.24.10 at 9:46 pm

“it’s a sign of just how desperate administrators are to save a nickel anywhere they can.”

No, salient: see, the administrators told you a bunch of stuff about the budget – and they lied to you.

You’re of course one of the people who they will lie to without cease. They have to – the ranks of the administrators have undergone a massive increase, and the administrative salaries have risen rapidly as well. When they do the budgeting, they do this little fun thing of allocating what’s called overhead charges: overhead charges are essentially their salaries. When you do that and present the resulting budget to people who don’t understand how these things are constructed, what you get is: it doesn’t matter how much the administration is wasting because it all gets allocated out to other entities. The more the administrators blow on themselves, the more everybody else in the cost centers (that’s you) gets to suffer.

Here’s a tip: don’t ever take what’s in a budget at face value. If they don’t give you the original spreadsheets, they’re lying their ass off by definition.

Not that the state government didn’t cut back their support, of course. Which is certainly a major problem. However, the more major problem is that, like the top levels of American corporate hierarchies, the top levels of American education hierarchies are kleptocracies. Even if they didn’t get state support cut, they’d be telling you the exact same lies as they do right now.

163

burritoboy 09.24.10 at 10:26 pm

“But why would JP Morgan Chase hire someone with a BA in English? Their industry is not literature or language. It would make more sense to hire people educated in business or financial economics.”

Again, extrapolations from a continental European perspective will end you up in wrong places in the US.

1. In a European context, people getting university educations are often coming out with graduate degrees. In the US business world, you will generally get your first job with only a bachelor’s degree.
2. The top-tier schools do not usually offer undergraduate majors in business. Only two of the Ivy Leagues have undergraduate business programs (Cornell and UPenn). Stanford, Duke, the University of Chicago and Northwestern don’t have them either. Some of the best public universities have undergraduate business degrees, but others don’t (Cal Berkeley has them, but UCLA doesn’t, for instance). So, most of the top schools do not have undergraduate business majors. The small liberal arts colleges do not have them either. You can only obtain top-tier undergrad business majors from a very small list of places – Penn, MIT, Cornell, Cal Berkeley, Michigan, UVa and a few other places. Most undergraduate business programs at top-tier institutions are also intentionally quite small, so the output is limited.
3. Undergraduates in the US will not major in something called financial economics at a top-tier institution. They can get an economics degree, which is usually focused on high-end economic theory and it is only very marginally more applicable to business than anything else is.
4. Undergraduate business programs at mediocre US schools are not (broadly) viewed as particularly good places to learn any sort of high-end analytical skills.

The result is that there’s multiple bifurcated markets. When a corporation wants a junior accountant or junior tax analyst or junior HR person or a number of other functions, they will go to the nearest big mediocre university and hire a business major. They will not hire someone with a liberal arts degree. There is a set of professional services firms that primarily hires undergraduate students with a liberal arts degree, and generally pays only minimal attention to their course of study while doing so (the economics degree really doesn’t make a massive amount of difference and so they don’t privilege it much).

Liberal arts undergrads who do want to work in large corporations will get a job at a professional services firm and only later move to a corporation, generally getting jobs (or preferring jobs) that people with undergraduate business majors from mediocre schools will only rarely be considered for.

164

burritoboy 09.24.10 at 10:33 pm

“That really surprises me. I thought college rankings are among the things that almost all Americans are aware of.”

They are aware of college rankings – especially things like the NCAA rankings. Knowledge of academic rankings is far less widespread and people will in general be much more familiar with schools that have prominent sports programs – everybody knows what a Villanova or a Clemson or an Auburn is, even though these are not especially notable as academic institutions.

165

Myles SG 09.24.10 at 10:45 pm

Liberal arts undergrads who do want to work in large corporations will get a job at a professional services firm and only later move to a corporation, generally getting jobs (or preferring jobs) that people with undergraduate business majors from mediocre schools will only rarely be considered for.

There’s also the fact the undergraduate business major is quite dangerous for the graduates at top schools themselves. A ready-made business major might translate into an immediate, permanent job track post-graduation, and if and when that job track turns out sour, it hurts the graduates.

Whereas if you only graduate with a generalist degree, you are more likely to be hired by the likes of McKinsey and get rotational training in all departments, and thus have a set of skills that are not vulnerable to economic shifts in the way normal people’s skills are.

For example, someone who was retarded enough to graduate with a focus in Industrial Processes Management or whatever twenty years ago would have been disadvantaged pretty heavily.

(I laughed no end when I found out that the general business curriculum at one fairly decent university still, in 2010, contained a unit on manufacturing processes, productivity, efficiencies, and assembly-line setups. Dead-end careers, anyone?)

166

superdestroyer 09.25.10 at 5:59 am

BurritoBoy,

College Rankings only matter in long-normally distributed career fields. For all the talk of I-banking being analytical, most of the jobs are really sales jobs. After having done business with McKenzie and Booz-Allen, I will tell you that most of their low-level employees were worthless but did have Ivy league degrees.

Another way to look at the world is that a nursing graduate from Penn or Johns Hopkins gets the same starting pay as every other nursing graduate. A graduate of Harvard Medical School gets the same reimbursement as any other physicians. However a Harvard Law School graduate will get paid more because they went to Harvard versus other lawyers. Thus, the top schools are all about succeeding in a log-normal field . That is why fewer Harvard or Yale graduates are interested in Medicine, science, or operational management. They are narrowing themselves into finance, politics, media, and consulting where a few get very rich and most people are failures.

Look at engineering (something that Clemson and Auburn are good at. Those are normally distributed careers but can be done anywhere. Yet, being in investment banking limits a person to living in NYC. Working in the Media limits people to working in NYC, DC, or LA.

167

Michael Newcastle 09.25.10 at 6:44 am

Re Myles 143/144:

This is all really wrong. You have no absolutely no idea what you are talking about.
Almost nobody got a 70-80k stipend. There were maybe 3 firms giving out that much. The usual firm paid for bar expenses + something like 15k. They were trying to balance out not having too much bad publicity and giving deferred associates incentives to find different jobs as they massively over hired. And even then a lot of offers were rescinded. Additionally a lot of junior first and second year associates were fired, and laying off first and second year associates used to be considered something you weren’t supposed to do…and yet you had hundreds upon hundreds of young lawyers let go.

If you think the fear of bad publicity is related to impressing career services offices at law schools, you clearly don’t know anything about how any of this works. What do you think; law students are going to refuse a 160k job because a firm isn’t genteel enough? Why don’t you look at how well Latham recruited this year after completely massacring a whole generation of lawyers…? Rescinding offers/no offering summer associates is a sign of a firm’s economic health; firms care because a struggling firm will be a target for predatory firms that try to pick off partners with robust books of business, and a struggling firm will have a difficult time poaching these kinds of partners from other firms. Firms grow by poaching partners and buying out smaller firms. If you think they are acting to protect some kind of genteel image, you are hopelessly out of touch.

And you have no idea what makes a “really elite” lawyer. Professionally, what makes a “really elite lawyer” is that lawyers book of business, which is made in part by winning cases/dominating negotiations, and in part by sucking up to the kind of “grubby” business types you despise. The preference for t14 law schools or t5 law schools has very little to do with a quality of student. If you want to talk about differentiation then Yale has by far the “smartest” law students, and yet they have a reputation for being mediocre lawyers in regards to biglaw practice (they dominate the judiciary and especially academia). The difference between a Harvard Law student and a University of Minnesota Law student is like 6 questions on the LSAT. The real value of getting a t14 kid is that it’s just easier to bill them out at the insane rates firms charge. Easier to justify to the “grubby” businessmen who pay the bills because they hold the same simple minded social climbing views on “prestige” as you do…that’s actually the most amusing thing about you; your strident awareness and the importance you place on these things marks you as an outsider to the very class of people you want to join. You are just like a businessman who looks at the young lawyers Cornell law degree with a mixture of satisfaction and reassurance as the senior partner in charge of the case snickers to himself at the idiot buying this b.s.

168

Map Maker 09.25.10 at 5:40 pm

Myles,

I hope you aren’t planning on interviewing with McK/Bain/BCG – you’ll shine right through …

“(I laughed no end when I found out that the general business curriculum at one fairly decent university still, in 2010, contained a unit on manufacturing processes, productivity, efficiencies, and assembly-line setups. Dead-end careers, anyone?)”

I laughed to no end when I read this. What percent of Apple’s (to use your example above) management is concerned on the impact of mmanufcaturing process, productivity, efficiencies and assembly-line set-up? Quite a large percentage. Just because you outsource manufacturing, doesn’t mean that you design from the beginning for manufacturing. If apple’s wizards design something that is too hard or expensive to produce, it will suck as a product in the consumer space.

In any event, real management consultants come from business school. 98% of undergrad consultants get rotated out to graduate school within 3-5 years of starting. As was mentioned earlier, Harvard, Wharton, and Stanford business schools’ students are only somewhat skewed towards “elite” colleges.

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Myles SG 09.25.10 at 11:28 pm

In any event, real management consultants come from business school. 98% of undergrad consultants get rotated out to graduate school within 3-5 years of starting. As was mentioned earlier, Harvard, Wharton, and Stanford business schools’ students are only somewhat skewed towards “elite” colleges.

The impression I get is that people who do management consultancy as a career post-business school are at least a tier/rung down from people who do it as a sort of post-undergraduate training internship before heading to business school and then heading into banking, management, whatever. The reason McKinsey is so prestigious for undergrads is because it is the best feeder for Harvard MBA there is, and once you get to Harvard MBA you can go for Wall Street. To do McKinsey post-MBA is basically catching the second wave, and your earning potential is already lower by that point.

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y81 09.25.10 at 11:58 pm

Management consulting and investment banking have waxed and waned over the years as post-MBA careers. Certainly i-banking shone through the 00-07 period, but if you had heard the confused little analysts on our church’s prayer call the week Lehman filed, you would have wished you had gone to McKinsey. Or even Citigroup, though they had layoffs too, of course. We’ll see what the future brings.

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'As You Know' Bob 09.26.10 at 3:32 am

A note on the networking connections at college:

y81 at #114: The useful people are, first, the partners or managing directors at your own job, and, second, the firm’s clients or customers, all of whom are much older than you.

It’s true that when you are starting out, your classmates – in themselves – are not a whole lot of use to you. (“… your recent classmates are of no use whatsoever.” Agreed.)

But it’s the fathers (…and, rarely, the mothers…) of your classmates who are “…the partners or managing directors at your own job, and, second, the firm’s clients or customers…”.

Your frat brother’s father might be the guy who knows just who to call to get you a foot in the door. Your roommate’s family comes to visit and take you out to dinner, too. You start dating your roommate’s kid sister, and start going home with your roommate at Thanksgiving. Suddenly The Old Man mentions your need for a job at his next board meeting.

Lo-and-behold, this sort of networking is much more valuable at the Ivies than it is at State U.

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piglet 09.26.10 at 4:22 pm

Thanks Castorp 145 and Britta 154.

Castorp, you are right of course that there is an academic distinction between Fachhochschule and University. What I meant to say was that an FH graduate isn’t generally looked down an as second-rate compared to a University graduate. On the contrary, a University graduate with a degree say in English or (yikes) Philosophy may be looked down on as useless, compared to a solid engineer.

Now if you look at the Federal cabinet (74), 2 out of 16 ministers went to Fachhochschule and one went to a technical college, versus 13 that went to University. Engineers are underrepresented and lawyers are way overrepresented in politics. To some extent that is self-selection but elite in-group dynamics obviously play a role.

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