Are Elite Schools Still the Better Choice? As a university student searching for the best school to attend, it’s important to understand what sets each university apart.
Do our elite Ivy League universities still truly provide what they have, for decades or centuries, offered and stood for? Do they selectively screen for those students that are truly dedicated or exceptionally gifted? Or have they possibly begun to partly concentrate more on academic meritocracy or potentially lucrative achievements and thereby have become just finishing schools for the wealthy and privileged plutocracy? Have their credentials become a brand that a trickling few affluent students can simply use to catapult their own co-branding?
Do our more prestigious universities allow pampered and uninspired sheep-like students to be corralled within the exclusive domains of higher education? Are their results generating powerful leaders and captains of industries, or are they, like other, less prestigious universities, mass-producing lost pawns and sheep with over-exaggerated credentials and small-percentage advantages? Are they filling up with those truly seeking affluence, great achievement or contributions and prestigious careers, or simply with many who smoke weed and play video games on their parents’ fraternity or dormitory couches? Are there graduates today living with anxiety, depression, aimlessness and isolation, or are they clearer, brighter and more determined than their counterparts of yesteryear? These may just be questions worth pondering and answering.
Do our elite educational institutions offer exceptional opportunities to their students and alumni, or are the many off-brand universities potentially offering similar or possibly greater bargains with fewer entitlements, hassles and costs? Does the handful of super-elite students truly outperform the honor students of their more common educational rivals? Have the elites become stultified by stagnant traditions and cushioned by reputation, or are they truly encouraging innovative and creative contributions? Can the more obscure institutions compete with and outshine those better known? Is it time for Richard Branson or the like to do what he once did with Virgin Airlines to awaken British Airways to its once-stagnant conventions?
Some have claimed that these more selective universities spend more time on student instruction and support, and have more technologically-current facilities than less selective ones, and that they are ultimately greater long-term bargains. Others have claimed that graduates of the more selective universities are more likely to graduate on time, will tend to find more desirable careers and spouses, and will earn 20 percent more each year throughout their working lives than those who attend less selective universities. They claim that these advantages swamp any differences in cost. But are these claims still valid? Probably so, but it is wise to ponder. Of course, if students don’t know where they are going, any road or university will take them there.
Ultimately, the university is there for the purpose of teaching its students to think: to self-reflect and organize their thoughts; to break complex problems into simpler components; to apply general principles to specific cases; to discern causes and effects; and to negotiate tradeoffs and equity between competing or cooperating values. The university is there to help students build their “true selves,” so they can become authentic individuals, unique beings or inspired souls. A university is there to educate its students about the prehistory of the human species and the basic laws governing the physical and living world; to educate them on the timeline of human history; to expose them to the diversity of human cultures and their major systems of beliefs and values; to understand the principles behind social governance; to appreciate the great works of the arts, sciences, religions and philosophies of the world, and to develop more profound reflection.
“May the great universities of tomorrow live up to their original intentions and may our next generational humanity continue in its quest for understanding, wisdom and great social contribution.”
The university is there to educate students to express their complex ideas in clear writing and speech; to appreciate the difference between objective and subjective knowledge; to know how to distinguish vetted fact from primitive superstition, rumor, and unexamined conventional beliefs; to reason logically and statistically; to avoid fallacies and biases; to distinguish causation from correlation and coincidence; to become acutely aware of human fallibility, most notably their own; to appreciate that other people who disagree with them are not stupid, wrong, or evil; and to appreciate the value of transforming minds by inspiration or persuasion rather than intimidation or demagoguery.
The university is there to cultivate great knowledge to awaken true legacy-creating leaders. Although students display different emphases and degrees of academic rigor, and they vary in their innate and acquired intelligence, their familiarity with literate culture, their priorities in life, and their personality traits, they still learn as much from their peers as their professors, and benefit from their cohorts with which they can bat around ideas. A vibrant research and educational institution must bring smarter undergraduates into the fold, to challenge wisdom, inject energy and innovation, to replenish its membership and encourage camaraderie.
The university is there to be dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge, wisdom and self-discipline. It is to build an astonishing library system that gathers rare manuscripts, obscure tomes and journals; exotic laboratories at the frontiers of neuroscience, regenerative wellness and other inspiring pursuits; and a professoriate with erudition in an astonishing range of topics, including many prize-winning, celebrity teachers and academic superstars. The benefits of matching this sort of intellectual empyrean with the world’s smartest students are obvious and essential.
The university is there to test students in ways that truly tap knowledge, skill and aptitude, but at the same time honor philanthropic extracurricular activities, which also teach students important lessons of social and moral engagement. But it is ultimately the students that determine their destinies. The university is only there to assist and guide. It is not that the more branded and elite or more common and obscure universities are greater or lesser in their impact; it is simply a reminder that the true and higher mission of education is to be encouraged and not forgotten. Preferential selection is wise and certainly essential, but so is a well-adjusted and educated social system. May the great universities of tomorrow live up to their original intentions and may our next generation of humanity continue in its quest for understanding, wisdom and great social contribution.