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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

When You Can’t Afford Yale

A wealthy friend of mine is getting calls from his formerly wealthy friends who were recently employed at Lehman Brothers, and other brokerage firms, who are now no longer Masters of the Universe. They are looking for his help because they can no longer afford Yale tuition, nor the tuition at Riverdale and Spenser. What to do?

He has the ability to help them, and he sincerely wants to help. I understand their pain, and so does he. But my advice was “no.” (I couldn’t help thinking of the Risky Business line where the defeated Princeton applicant says I guess its the University of Illinois.)

This might seem like peculiar advice coming from someone who was professor at Yale for fifteen years (as well as a professor at Stanford and Northwestern for another fifteen years.) But, it is time someone set the record straight about these schools. Surely, no one currently employed by them will do so. Our current economic times demand the truth. These schools are simply not worth the money. There I said it.

While they will not admit it openly, the Harvard’s and Yale’s of the world are in a business that is different from the one economically struggling parents think they are in. The general public’s view is that these schools provide a superior education and provide a credential that is essential to upward mobility in the modern world. Nothing could be further from the truth.

These days, undergraduate credentials from an Ivy League school mean nothing. Our President-elect is considered to be a Harvard guy when what he did was attend Harvard Law. These days most people who want to succeed have graduate degrees. Graduate schools admit students from all sorts of universities that are much cheaper and much less elite than the Ivies. In fact, they strive to do just that to have a broad student body. You really don’t need to go to Yale to become a Harvard MBA. Our current President may have followed that path but his being a Bush was probably more important than his having attended Yale College where he didn’t do that well anyway.

However, the significance of graduate school in one’s life is not my real point. The Ivies are locked into an educational paradigm that really is of no value at all to most people. The real intent of a Yale education is to produce professors. Most professors at these places are excited by students who want to do the kind of research that they themselves do. These places aren’t called Research Universities for nothing. The idea is that a real education to any Ivy League Professor means becoming an intellectual of the type that that professor is. Professors at the Ivies are gratified by students who want to get PhDs in their subdisciplines and they really don’t care all that much about the rest. They will not admit this to anyone. It is an Ivy League secret.

If your son or daughter wants desperately to become a professor then sending them to a top Research University is a serous step towards opening their eyes towards doing research. If they do not intend to do research, then they can just go to any state college, collect the needed credential, and go on with their lives.

Send them to the existing public schools and help to create new charter schools that teach real world skills. Send them to a community college that teaches real world skills. Send them to a state university that charges next to no tuition. Let them learn about life by working. (There is a thought!)

In all cases their lives will work out just fine without Yale if they work hard, and you won’t have to beg friends for tuition money.

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