October 28, 2007

Poison Ivy

AS I UNDERSTAND IT, it is apparently fashionable again to Not Like the Ivy League, at least based on a couple of articles and blog posts I've read recently. The Chronicle of Higher Education recently had a story which looked at a tongue-in-cheek debate on whether society ought dismantle the top Ivy League schools, and Meg McArdle took a look at the issue with a post about why it is so fun to hate Ivy Leaguers. (Ms McArdle herself, as she notes, is an Ivy alumna; she went to Penn).

Now, as strange as it may seem for someone who regularly insults institutions of higher education based on their football prowess, and who gleefully mocks and taunts their graduates accordingly, I do not hold any animus against Ivy graduates. This is because I went to Michigan, and as such I am supremely confident in the academic reputation of my school. Furthermore, were anyone so foolish as to disparage Michigan's academic reputation, I could point out this:

Yes, that's right. Space, dammit! Space! And if that doesn't do the trick, I can point out that Michigan is the only institution of higher learning with an alumni chapter -- and a flag -- on the moon. (Some people say the flag story is a myth, but I can assure you that stories to the contrary are all lies, spread by Communists, anarchists, and scoundrels of the highest order).

But I digress. I myself have never had a bad experience with a graduate of Harvard, Princeton, Brown, Dartmouth, Cornell or Pennsylvania, so I have no reason to dislike the Ivy League. Indeed, I have found graduates of these institutions to be smart, charming and likable people. Yale, on the other hand, is a different story. But I'm open to changing my mind about Yalies -- it's just the two I've met personally were disagreeable.

On a deeper level, though, I am surprised the Ivies as institutions have not taken more pains to publicly emphasize the value of attending their institutions. From a business perspective, they seem content to rest on their reputations, and while that does count for a lot, it doesn't seem like the most proactive strategy.

One can argue that education, as a service, has diminishing returns. If a student can spend $50,000 attending Public School A to get an education, compared to spending $200,000 for an Ivy League education, why would he willingly spend the extra $150,000 to receive an undergraduate degree from an Ivy League school? In both cases, he'll have a quality degree.

While I fully admit going to a top school might improve one's chances of getting hired out of college, after that first job recruiters will care only about one's job performance -- not where one went to school. Furthermore, since graduates from lesser institutions can easily parlay their work or school experiences for admission into fine professional schools, it seems to me that low-cost schools really bring a lot of value to the table, while the Ivies are comparatively disadvantaged.

Besides, the lower-cost schools have better football programs, and there's something to be said for the joyous intangibles associated with watching one's alma mater play on Saturdays.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at October 28, 2007 09:30 AM | TrackBack
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