Thursday, 9 September 2004

More elitism

Matt Yglesias semi-defends Harvard from charges of elitism—albeit ones not made in this Gregg Easterbrook essay, which is based on research that concludes that (controlling for a variety of factors) people admitted to Harvard do no better than those who attend “lesser” schools, over the long term (þ Orin Kerr).

I think there is a minor caveat to mention here, however; Easterbrook writes:

Today an Ivy diploma reveals nothing about a person’s background, and favoritism in hiring and promotion is on the decline; most businesses would rather have a Lehigh graduate who performs at a high level than a Brown graduate who doesn’t.

I think that is true for businesses; however, I don’t think that’s true of academic institutions, at least to the same degree. Look at any college catalog or bulletin—for example this one*—and you’ll see the names of the institutions that faculty members received their degrees from (most will also include dates of degrees). So, clearly this is a selling point of the institution—they wouldn’t include this information if nobody cared about it (heck, when I was looking at colleges as a high school junior and senior, I cared about it)—and colleges that can list a lot of Ivy grads in the catalog will probably attract better students, with some minor exceptions. Which actually, in and of itself, might be an interesting empirical question to examine: do students whose colleges whose faculties have more Ivy grads do better in life, ceteris paribus?

* The web version actually looks like the 2003–04 catalog; my name actually appears in the print and PDF versions.

1 comment:

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If I’m not mistaken, the research cited was looking at success of people with undergraduate degrees from prestigious vs. not-so-prestigious institutions.

I think anyone remotely associated with academia could tell you that where you get your graduate degree matters, at least insofar as getting an academic job is concerned. Although perhaps those who don’t get academic jobs and pursue their “backup careers” are actually more successful, at least in purely pecuniary terms.

It would be interesting to see the data for those with professional degrees, i.e. doctors and lawyers.

This would mesh well with Yglesias’s observation that the faculty at the prestigious institutions are not necessarily the best teachers, but the best researchers. The best teachers would be the best thing to have as an undergraduate, but if you’re training to do research, you want to learn from the best researchers.

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