An attempt to displace the Ivy League

Arnold Kling:

The Moonshot Goal

This white paper depicts an alternative form of higher education that will rely heavily on people who participate in and support the world of profit-seeking businesses. The goal is to displace the Ivy League. Success will mean that

  • In five years, a survey will find that a majority of middle-class high school seniors and their parents will say that they are “seriously considering” an alternative to attending a four-year college
  • In seven years, applications for admission to Ivy League colleges will be down 75 percent from what they are today


The Ivy League exerts enormous leverage on our society. Its culture permeates government and corporations, as well as the rest of higher education, including colleges that train K-12 teachers. This culture’s ever-increasing hostility toward markets and free expression has become toxic.

It will not be easy to displace the Ivy League. It clearly passes the market test. This can be seen quantitatively in the high ratio of applications to acceptances. It can be seen qualitatively in the stress that parents and high school students feel about the need to gain admission.

The Ivy League’s strong market position is self-sustaining. The Ivy League is guaranteed to graduate capable, ambitious students, because capable and ambitious students comprise the applicant pool. And because it graduates capable, ambitious students, Ivy League graduates are sought by post-graduate programs, corporations, non-profit organizations, and governments. Because graduates are sought after, high school seniors and their parents value admission to the Ivy League. Note that this equilibrium can prevail even though the capabilities of students who attend may not be enhanced by their experience, and indeed may even be adversely affected.

The Ivy League’s standing in higher education is like Facebook’s standing in social networking. Just as Facebook need not provide an optimal experience to remain dominant in social networking, the Ivy League need not provide an optimal experience to remain dominant in higher education.

1. Ivy League payments and entitlements cost taxpayers $41.59 billion over a six-year period (FY2010-FY2015). This is equivalent to $120,000 in government monies, subsidies, & special tax treatment per undergraduate student, or $6.93 billion per year.

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