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The Over Hyped Ivy League: Giving the Ivy League Too Much Credit

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Is the education at ivy institutions is really better than what thousands of other colleges and universities offer?

When Harvard sneezes, the media rushes to cover it. It’s amazing how Harvard and the seven other Ivy League schools can command so much interest in the national media when so few students even attend these schools.

Here is the reality: The only Ivy most teenagers are going to come into contact with is the poison ivy variety. While there are 14.9 million undergraduates attending college, less than 55,600 attend Ivy League schools. So right from the start, teenagers face horrible odds if they want to attend these eight schools: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth College, Brown University , Columbia University, University of Pennsylvania and Cornell University.

Unfortunately, what is often missing in discussions when an Ivy League school makes the national news is whether the education at one of these elite institutions is really better than what thousands of other colleges and universities offer. The evidence suggests it isn’t.

You don’t, for instance, need an Ivy League education to succeed in a career, much less in life. A recent survey, for instance, showed that only four chief executive officers at the 50 biggest corporations had Ivy League degrees.

There is also plenty of evidence that schools don’t necessarily provide their students with the very best educations. Last year, for instance, The New York Times published a story that conveyed the anxiety of some Harvard professors, who fretted about the quality of the school’s undergraduate education. They were worried because many of Harvard’s professors are devoted to their own research and teaching undergraduates is a low priority. One professor lamented that some students graduate from Harvard without ever knowing any teacher well enough to ask for a recommendation. Imagine that!

One of the more eloquent experts who questions the Ivy League mystique is Thomas Sowell, a scholar in residence at Stanford University and the author of a very popular book, Economic Facts and Fallacies.

Here’s a sampling of what Sowell wrote last year in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

“One of the biggest fallacies about academic institutions is that attendance at a big-name college or university is virtually essential for reaching the top later in life. In fact students will not necessarily get better educations at more prestigious institutions with higher paid faculty-especially since a college’s academic prestige depends primarily on its professors’ research and publications.

Various studies have shown students at small liberal arts colleges doing as well as, and sometimes better than, students from prestigious research universities on tests like those for medical schools and a higher percentage going on to receive Ph.D’s. That is not surprising in view of a study indicating that teaching takes up less than half the working time of faculty at research universities yet nearly two-thirds of it at liberal arts colleges.”

This article is an excerpt from The College Solution Blog by Lynn O'Shaughnessy, author of The College Solution: A Guide for Everyone Looking for the Right School at the Right Price.

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