Stanford Over Harvard?

The New York Times wonders: Has Stanford replaced Harvard as the most acclaimed school in the country? According to the Times:

Stanford University has become America’s “it” school, by measures that Harvard once dominated. Stanford has had the nation’s lowest undergraduate acceptance rate for two years in a row; in five of the last six years, it has topped the Princeton Review survey asking high school seniors to name their "dream college"; and year in and year out, it raises more money from donors than any other university.

I think a more important question is: Does it even matter? The most important factor in a college search is for students to find the "it" school that best meets who they are and what they need, whether that school is in the top ten or the top 100. I know graduates from both Stanford and Harvard who are wonderful, successful people. But I also know wonderful, successful people from schools that are not so famous, from schools that never see the front page of national newspapers. What accounts for this continuing fascination with an "it" school, with the effort to align one institution with a mythic brilliance or prestige? 

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J Cosgrove
3 years 4 months ago
As a graduate of Stanford (MBA), I am obviously prejudiced. When I flew to the Bay area to meet my ship in the Navy, I stayed at a friend's house in Los Altos which is just south of Palo Alto. Having never been west of the Mississippi before I was intrigued by being in California. My friend took me on a tour of the Bay area and the first stop was Stanford. It is an unbelievingly beautiful campus and the weather is almost flawless. So it is hard to beat for just pleasant living let alone a great education. When I got out of the Navy, the next stop was Palo Alto. On top of that, Stanford has made an effort to attract some of the top people in every field so the educational experience was designed to match the aesthetics. World class people are everywhere. And they are innovative. Stanford invented Silicon Valley as their engineering faculty moved in and out of local technology firms starting in the 1950's. Stanford and the world have benefited by this new type of cooperation of a university working with business. Sports were always a big deal at Stanford. In recent years they have become a football power house which makes Fall weekends lots of fun. A year in Palo Alto will now cost Mom and Dad about $60,000 and for that they better be providing a good product. But a lot of the attraction I believe is the experience of going to a top university in one of the most pleasant environments possible. By the way, when I was going to Stanford, we used to refer to some school in Cambridge as the Stanford of the East.
Matt Emerson
3 years 4 months ago

J Cosgrove,

Thanks for reading and replying. There is no doubt Stanford has an outstanding faculty and much to offer. My frustration is with the effort to crown an "it" school and bestow it a "wow" factor that approaches something mythical or supernatural. This is unhelpful and unnecessary.  

-Matt

Marie Rehbein
3 years 4 months ago
You might consider that Harvard, and other east coast ivies, try to impress prospective students with the fact that they have old engineering programs. In my opinion, this does the opposite of what is intended. I agree that the beauty of Stanford makes it more popular as well. Why people rank schools, though, has nothing to do with the schools they rank. There's a market for information about all schools, and it's one way of presenting the information.
Tim O'Leary
3 years 4 months ago
Stanford certainly excels in sports (top school for several years in many sports), research, climate and popularity. But, I have my doubts that an undergraduate education at places like Stanford and the Ivies are worth the investment. Most of the marquee professors spend their time doing research, on the lecture circuit, writing and maybe teaching the postgraduates, and the undergraduates get mostly taught by the postgrads, whereas in smaller colleges, the professors do the teaching and are closer to the undergrads. They are great places for postgraduate education and research, probably the best in the world. However, if one ranks colleges by what's that really important - one's eternal life and the education of the soul - they are close to the bottom of the heap. Some do have strong enclaves of Christian life, aided by the Newman Centers. I would like to see a ranking of schools by how close to God the graduates are at graduation. There are some great Jesuit, Dominican and Franciscan schools in America that teach the whole person, and are attentive to the spiritual life. And there are several small liberal arts schools across the country (e.g. Thomas Aquinas College, University of Dallas, Belmont College, Providence College, Holy Cross., Villanova, St. Joes, etc.) that are great environments for nurturing the whole person and opening minds to lifelong pursuits of learning. There also appear to be some very good Protestant or non-denominational colleges (St. John' in Annapolis, a Great Books school like TAC). They can be great stepping stones to wisdom and are ideal for those expecting to pursue postgraduate degrees. But, in he end, the fit for the student is the most important criterion.
J Cosgrove
3 years 4 months ago
Tim,
I have my doubts that an undergraduate education at places like Stanford and the Ivies are worth the investment
I tend to agree except a college education is not about what you learn anymore. It is more about an experience and meeting people, mostly your own age. Schools like Stanford supposedly try to provide diversity so they tout this except the typical student at these schools is academically gifted and often financially well off. So they are not really diverse in a lot of ways. Read Charles Murray (Coming Apart) to see how we are becoming more and more stratified as a society in terms of education and money. And this especially plays out at the top tier universities. The academics are really more of a commodity and can be purchased in a lot of places. Except maybe engineering and some of the sciences/technical courses. Stanford's engineering and sciences are tops but there are certainly many other excellent schools in STEM subjects, especially some of the state schools. At a much cheaper cost. But you will meet a different type of person at these schools and in some ways that may be a better experience. All three of my children have made lasting friends from their college education. Neither my wife and I have many friends from college or Stanford where we met in the Business School. We have more friends from our high school years and local activities. I was a commuter to a local college and it was strictly to get a degree in something. College has become a right of passage and the education is often a side issue. Yes you get accredited but often never use the specific material again for anything. (I have an undergraduate degree in math and physics but ended up in advertising) You are challenged and the goal is to finish it well. The most obvious exceptions are in the STEM areas. (a caveat is that there has been a premium in recent years for a degree in something one can use immediately - the top paying undergraduate major is petroleum engineering) I have learned more about the world, philosophy and history after college by reading and watching video courses from the library. Online learning could change everything in terms of learning but it will not provide the experience of meeting friends and experiencing similar pressures as you struggle to complete the course work that only a brick and mortar college experience provides. I would not send my children to a school where either we are they had to borrow money to finish. That is getting harder to do with the escalating tuition fees. Hopefully, things like MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses ) will lower the cost of the education. The problem is convincing the high school student to take advantage of it, This will limit their on campus time which is what they really want so there may be resistance to it. As far as ethical and religious experience, I am not sure that is possible in many places as the faculty are mostly atheists even at the Catholic universities. So the religious who supposedly run the university have been co-opted by the faculty. The most prominent religious college educators are the Jesuits which is why I believe that a lot of the editorial material on America is affected by this relationship with a large atheistic faculty at their universities.
Tim O'Leary
3 years 4 months ago
Very interesting points. I learned the theory of my trade/vocation at university (MD) but really only knew it by practicing it in residency and fellowship and research institutes. I too learned most outside my specialty solo through reading, the Great Courses and other lecture series, book clubs, philosophy groups, bible study groups etc. Beyond a specific skill and diploma, the most important thing to pick up in any school is how to self-educate, the discipline to keep it up, the openness to new ideas and a love of the truth. MOOCs are great if one has the discipline to stick with it to the end. I really do hope they bring the cost of college down as it is ridiculous at present, in this country. As to going to a school for the experience and the relationships, I suppose that was always a part of it. But, sounds like a country club, which are also expensive. I still think the best value for the Ivies etc. is in Postgrad. You can still get the relationships and connections and are probably more mature and better able to gain from the experience.
J Cosgrove
3 years 4 months ago
A very insightful comment was deleted by Ann Chapman. I have had problems with comments being deleted in recent months. I believe it probably has something to do with the software that controls comments on the site. At least 4 separate times when I edited the comment to fix typos the comment would disappear. It would say it was being moderated but rarely did it reappear. So if one of the moderators could reinsert her comment, look into why comments get deleted when edited and then delete this, it would be welcomed.
Anne Chapman
3 years 4 months ago
Thanks for this note. I didn't know what happened but you have explained it. I did edit it and I got a message that it was being moderated.
Tim O'Leary
3 years 4 months ago
Same thing happened to me a couple of times, while correcting typos (I tend to be a stickler for that type of thing). Best to copy into word so you can reinsert if deleted. If it's not a software issue, the moderator could just be overwhelmed.

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