So here are the colleges that, according to Forbes, “produce” the most billionaires. The “produce” word suggests cause and effect, with the hint that if your kid can get in ze will absorb some of that magic pixie dust. And true it is that since credentialing is one of the major functions of higher education a degree from one of these places can send a signal. But does the academic program make the difference? Do Cornell, Standford and the rest “produce” billionaires?
For one, a lot of good research nowadays indicates that students, even at the best colleges, do not learn that much or gain much by way of critical thinking skills when at school. Still, you say, these colleges turned out billionaires one way or another while others did not and that counts for something, right?
Maybe but consider two things. First, some of the people mentioned in the article were gifted when they arrived and were gifted when they graduated. Larry Page, Google’s founder, was the son of one of the pioneers of computer science and grew up in a household soaked in academics and science. One suspects that he was likely to do well for himself even if he had not gone to the University of Michigan as an undergraduate.
But if you go through this article and, yes, Google the names that are listed as the billionaires “produced” by these special places you find an even more better explanation for financial success: inherited wealth. Cornell is on the list because three heirs of the SG Johnson fortune went there. Duke was the college of choice for candy heiress Marijke Mars and J.B. Pritzker, born into one of the nation’s richest families. Dartmouth’s Leon Black is the son of the founder of United Brands. There is plenty of privilege in this group.
That is not to say inherited wealth or genes is all. There are plenty of people on the list who show grit and pluck, though even there a review of backgrounds suggests less by way of rising from modest backgrounds and more by way of backgrounds of moderate wealth and high aspirations—always important keys to success. And while some on the list are billionaires mainly due to the wealth they inherited a number of the wealthy on the list are highly accomplished in the own right–though, again, the role of the college in producing such accomplishments is to be questioned.
So send your kid to one if you want zir to develop contacts or to absorb the reputational pixie dust or just get a good education. And since most of these places are well-endowed and offer a lot of financial aid they tend to be bargains on a net basis compared with lower-ranked schools. But don’t expect one of these to “produce” your kid into a billionaire.