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Class Struggle: Prestigious Colleges Need Satellite Campuses

  • Students walk through campus at Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Mark Makela



The Washington Post
Monday, January 22, 2018

If you owned a factory that was selling everything it made but left 90 percent of orders unfilled, what would you do?

Open more factories, of course.

That’s not the way higher education operates in the United States. The top ranked colleges accept less than 10 percent of applicants. They freely admit that they reject thousands each year just as good as the ones they let in.

Which is why, wondering about education reforms in the new year, I Googled a lovely photo of Price Canyon Road just north of Pismo Beach on the central California coast. The hills of golden grass dotted with dark green oaks seem a perfect spot for Princeton at Pismo Beach, my dream of what could happen if our crustiest Ivy League schools finally woke up and started franchising themselves.

Pismo Beach, once dubbed “Clam Capital of the World,” right on U.S. 101, is a favorite of mine. The little resort town of 7,500 doesn’t take itself too seriously. It has plenty of room for a surge of undergraduates who deserve better weather and nicer surroundings than what they are getting at the Ivies of New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New York and New Hampshire.

You probably have some good ideas for prime Ivy satellite spots. How about Dartmouth at Daytona Beach, Brown at Biloxi, Harvard at Huntington Beach, Columbia at Carmel, Penn at Pensacola or Cornell at Corpus Christi?

I am not suggesting the brand name schools should run the new campuses. They are weak on original thinking, otherwise why wouldn’t they have taken this step already? They might be persuaded, however, to award naming rights to educational entrepreneurs with fresh ideas.

Some companies spend $20 million a year to attach their name to a big league stadium. The chance to use an Ivy name should be worth even more. Just the sweatshirts would be hot items for visitors.

One question to be answered in this scheme: What’s in a name? The popularity of the Ivies does not appear to reflect any significant benefits from attending those leafy campuses. A study by Alan Krueger, former chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, and Mathematica Policy Research expert Stacy Berg Dale showed that students accepted by selective colleges who chose not to attend those colleges had incomes just as high 20 years later as those who did attend. (Only students from low-income families did better after attending selective colleges.)

Krueger and Dale concluded that the selective schools had the big reputations not because of any skills they gave their students. Their only advantage is they are better than other schools in attracting students with the character traits, such as patience, charm and humor, that lead to success. Students with those traits (usually acquired long before taking the SAT) do just as well in life as the Ivy grads. And many successful people have discovered that the lesser-known colleges have alumni contacts just as helpful when looking for work.

So the big names will win the satellite Ivies many fine students, but will they provide a better education? If anybody ever tries this, we shall see. I think the super-selective schools most likely to experiment with franchises are those with cultures more attuned to the 21st century. How about Stanford at Santa Fe, Caltech at Chattanooga or MIT at Mobile?

More spaces at schools with famous names would relieve some of the stress that comes from rejecting almost all applicants. Some of those who are now unhappy rejects could delight in announcing their acceptances to schools their grandmothers have heard of, and in spending their college years in a warmer climate.

You can’t see the beach that easily from Price Canyon Road. The bars, clubs and seafood restaurants would require a short drive from Princeton at Pismo. That’s just as well. They may find exploring their innovative campus more interesting than what the tourists are doing on Pomeroy Avenue. And they can always get the clams delivered.