Thursday, April 28, 2011

What a Difference a Few Decades Make

Davenport Quadrangle 1949 Yale
Yale University 
About 25 years ago, when I was a young associate at a Beverly Hills law firm, one of my favorite clients was ecstatic that his daughter had been accepted to UCLA. Given that I went to an Ivy League adjacent school, aka a Seven Sisters school, at a time when Ivy League schools were barely coed ,  I was steeped in self-satisfaction about the importance of my college and the Ivy League in general.  I remember I had a huge argument with my client about whether UCLA was "as good as" an Ivy League school academically, although no one would dispute that they had a better football team than my college (!)  I do not remember his arguments for the "goodness" of UCLA, (where incidentally I attended grad school and law school and had some familiarity as a teaching assistant of the supposed undergrad geniuses that were in attendance) except that UCLA was competitive in its admissions.
UCLA vs Notre Dame
© 2009 J Rosenfeld | more info 
My view of UCLA in 1980s
My view of UCLA now.

Indeed, today admissions to UCLA are still competitive--only about 25% of the  high school and transfer students who apply are admitted.  At Berkeley, it is slightly more competitive to get in as a transfer- 20% of those applicants were admitted in 2010 as compared to 25% of high school applicants to the first year class. Whether competitiveness is a good measure of excellence is another thing.  Another  of the most competitive universities in California is Cal State Long Beach (CSULB), because of preferences given to local high schools and the cost of the education.   Tuition and mandatory fees at Cal State Long Beach in 2010-11 is a bargain at just under $5000/year, whereas Yale University tuition and fees for the same year hovers around $35,000.  Is the education at Yale worth seven times the cost when the total for 4 years with room and board will exceed $200,000?!  I must say that my view of excellence at this point is greatly tempered by bang for the buck when the bucks for the Ivy League get into the 6 figures.  (My Seven Sisters college education in the early 70s, the best of my recollection cost about $12,000 which I understand was comparable to some state universities.)

There have been other studies suggesting that it is the person, not the school who matters, at least in traditional measures of success.  Specifically, a recent study found that Ivy League graduates did not make any more money than those who were admitted to Ivy League schools but went elsewhere. The Ivy League also helped minorities and those of lower economic background more than everyone else, reflecting my mantra that what you know is important, who you know is essential.  According to the study,  Stacy Dale and Alan Krueger explain this result as follows:
One possible explanation for this pattern is that while most students who apply to selective colleges may be able to rely on their families and friends to provide job-networking opportunities, networking opportunities that become available from attending a selective college may be particularly valuable for black and Hispanic students, and for students from less educated families.
So all in all, I am thinking that public universities is the way these days. Unfortunately with cuts to our state budget, the state universities like CSULB and UCLA and community colleges will only become harder to attend.  So with great pleasure, I can say now in 2011 that I am thrilled that my daughter has been accepted for transfer to UCLA (as well as four other UC schools--Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, San Diego and Irvine).  My former client is probably laughing out loud somewhere.

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