I’m not complaining. I love my work. But I have always wondered why smart people like you assume getting into an Ivy League school, or its equivalent, guarantees success.
What about the giants of film and business who didn’t go to selective universities? I will cite the acceptance rate reported by U.S. News & World Report for each college I mention.
Steven Spielberg attended California State University at Long Beach (29 percent of applicants accepted).
Warren Buffett graduated from the University of Nebraska (64 percent). In addition to Buffett, the other CEOs of the top five companies on the 2018 Fortune 500 list went to these schools: University of Arkansas (66 percent), Texas A&M University (70 percent), Auburn University (84 percent) and Illinois State University (89 percent). The evening news anchors at ABC, CBS and NBC attended Ithaca College (71 percent), Syracuse University (47 percent) and California State University at Sacramento (68 percent).
Permit me to get personal. Here are the colleges of The Washington Post managing editors, deputy managing editors and local editor, who have the power to fire me: University of Maryland at College Park (44 percent), Northwestern University (9 percent), Brown University (9 percent), Kalamazoo College (73 percent), University of Colorado at Boulder (80 percent) and Pomona College (8 percent).
There are a few grads from ultra-selective schools in that group, but they all answer to Executive Editor Martin Baron. He was played by Liev Schreiber (Hampshire College, 64 percent) in the Oscar-winning best picture “Spotlight,” about his leadership of the Boston Globe. Baron graduated from Lehigh University (25 percent).
Don’t forget Frederick J. Ryan Jr., The Post’s publisher and chief executive (University of Southern California, 16 percent). Many of you paid big money to get your kids illegally into his alma mater, but it is not as selective as other schools in the scandal, such as Stanford University (5 percent) and Yale University (7 percent).
I realize The Post’s owner, Amazon founder and chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos, went to Princeton University (6 percent). But the Ivy League had little to teach him about how to become the world’s richest person. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, almost as wealthy, realized that early and dropped out of Harvard after two years.
Do your homework. Ultra-selective-college diplomas don’t correlate with better pay. Researchers Stacy Berg Dale and Alan B. Krueger looked at 30 schools, the most selective being Yale and Swarthmore College (11 percent). They found that students who were admitted to the most selective schools but who decided to attend less-selective colleges did not sacrifice anything in future pay: They wound up 20 years later earning as much as peers who went to selective schools. The scholars concluded that monetary success was the result of character traits such as persistence and warmth acquired long before we go to college.
The exception, they said: low-income students, who on average were better paid if they attended a more-selective school. The data also indicate women made more if they went to more-selective schools because they were less likely to marry and put their careers on hold for child-rearing.
There are ways for desperate parents like you to get your kids into selective colleges without risking indictment. They could enroll at less-selective colleges, do well and transfer to an Ivy after a year or two. That path was taken by the two most recent U.S. presidents, and me.
The presidents of the past two decades have all been Ivy League alums. But those brand-name diplomas do not guarantee success in office. Ronald Reagan was preceded by U.S. Naval Academy (8 percent) graduate Jimmy Carter and succeeded by Yale graduate George H.W. Bush. Reagan attended Eureka College (62 percent), yet historians rank him ninth among all presidents, while Bush is 20th and Carter 26th.
Change is possible. The Post’s 2020 Power Rankings for Democrats seeking or expected to seek their party’s presidential nomination show Joe Biden (University of Delaware, 60 percent) and Sen. Kamala D. Harris (Howard University, 41 percent) ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively.
Think about the powerful people you know. I’ll bet most of them did not attend colleges that are nearly impossible to get into. If you had encouraged kindness, humor and hard work in your children, they would have done fine. And you would have had to spend much less money on lawyers.
Sincerely, Jay Mathews.