Posts Tagged ‘Ivy League’

‘Break up the Ivy League cartel’

April 26, 2021

One encouraging thing is the growing bipartisan sentiment for breaking up giant corporations such as Amazon, Facebook, Google and Walmart.

Matt Stoller’s BIG Substack blog is good source of information on business monopoly and the anti-monopoly movement. 

A guest poster, Sam Haselby, pointed out the other that the Ivy League universities are very like monopoly businesses. 

They have positioned themselves the gatekeepers to the affluent life.  Like the big retail chains and tech companies, they are able to thrive because of their financial strength, while their smaller competitors, with smaller margins of survival, go under.

Here are some highlights of his post:

Since the pandemic began, 650,000 jobs have disappeared in American academic institutions. More than 75% of college faculty in the U.S. are contingent workers or non tenure-track.

Meanwhile, as of 2020, the aggregate value of the endowments of the richest 20 U.S. schools rose to over $311 billion, all of which are subsidized by taxpayers through the tax-free treatment we offer nonprofit educational institutions.

The common joke, that Harvard is a hedge fund with an educational arm, is not so far off.


In 1940, the acceptance rate at Harvard was eighty-five percent. In 1970, it was twenty percent. This year, for the class of 2025, it was 3.4 percent.

On the surface, a far more selective Ivy League seems to support the notion of meritocracy as something approximating what Jefferson characterized as the purpose of (unrealized plans for) free public schooling in 18th century Virginia: “the best geniuses will be raked from the rubbish annually.”

In practice though American meritocracy has become skewed to elite reproduction.

The economist Raj Chetty has found that nearly 40 of the country’s elite colleges and universities, including five in the Ivy League, accept more students from families in the top 1% of income earners than from the bottom 60%.

Computer scientist Alison Morgan recently released a study examining 7,218 professors in PhD granting departments in the United States across the arts and sciences.  She found that the faculty come from families almost 34% richer than average and are twenty-five times more likely than average to have a parent with a PhD.  Faculty at prestigious universities are fifty times more likely than average person to have a parent with a PhD.

American meritocracy has become a complex, inefficient, and rigged system conferring a series of “merits” on ambitious children of highly educated and prosperous families.


‘Don’t send your kid to the Ivy League’

July 25, 2014

A century ago, the Ivy League universities—Harvard, Yale and Princeton—provided an education suitable for those who were born rich.  Now they provide an education suitable for those who hope to get rich.  This is not an improvement.

The old thinking was that those born into the upper ranks of society should receive an education suitable for future leaders.   The universities taught them history and the classics to give a broad understanding of the world.  They also sought to teach mental and physical discipline to build character.  College athletics were part of the character-building process, not a producer of revenue.

ivyleague.jpg_largeThe great 20th century democratic dream was that this type of education should be made available not just to the children of the elite, but to everyone who wanted it and was capable of it.   I was fortunate enough to attend college in the 1950s, when this dream was at its zenith, and I received a broad liberal education (with some gaps, due to bad choices on my part).  I can’t prove it was of economic benefit, but it enriched my life.

Now higher education has become part of the process of sorting people into winners and losers.

President Obama says everybody should have a chance to go to college in order to advance themselves economically.  But of course if everybody goes to college, then a college degree will be worth no more in economic terms than a high school diploma today.  An Ivy League degree is what economists called “positional good”—something that is valuable only because not everybody has it.

My e-mail pen pal Bill Harvey sent me a link to an article in the New Republic by William Deresiewicz about how elite education has been corrupted by the quest for success.  Here are some highlights.

Our system of elite education manufactures young people who are smart and talented and driven, yes, but also anxious, timid, and lost, with little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose: trapped in a bubble of privilege, heading meekly in the same direction, great at what they’re doing but with no idea why they’re doing it. [snip]

I taught many wonderful young people during my years in the Ivy League—bright, thoughtful, creative kids whom it was a pleasure to talk with and learn from.  But most of them seemed content to color within the lines that their education had marked out for them.

Very few were passionate about ideas.  Very few saw college as part of a larger project of intellectual discovery and development.  Everyone dressed as if they were ready to be interviewed at a moment’s notice.  [snip]

Once, a student at Pomona told me that she’d love to have a chance to think about the things she’s studying, only she doesn’t have the time.  I asked her if she had ever considered not trying to get an A in every class.  She looked at me as if I had made an indecent suggestion. [snip]