Do Ivy League degrees matter for CEOs? It's complicated, reports suggest

Ivy leagues have long served as a symbol of prestige, marked by high costs and low admission rates. But this year, top universities have begun to question their own elite classifications, examining the relevance and practicality of chasing a "top-tier" degree. 

In November, several top law schools pulled out of U.S. News & World Report's annual rankings, alleging their reliance on peer assessments from deans, admissions directors and academics prioritize prestige over merit. Medical schools followed suit in January, including Ivies like Harvard and Columbia University. 

"The USNWR medical school rankings perpetuate a narrow and elitist perspective on medical education," Katrina Armstrong, MD, dean of Columbia's Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, told Becker's in a January statement. "Their emphasis is on self-reinforcing criteria such as reputation and institutional wealth, rather than measuring a school's success in educating a diverse and well-trained cohort of doctors able to change medicine for the better and meet society's needs.

Despite the newfound reluctance to be deemed elite, these schools' attendees are privy to certain benefits, according to a recent report from Opportunity Insights. The nonpartisan, nonprofit research group based out of Harvard compared estimated future income of waitlisted students who ultimately attended Ivy Leagues versus those who went to public universities. 

They found that Ivy and "Ivy-plus" degrees — including those from schools like Stanford, Duke or the University of Chicago — had a "statistically insignificant" impact on earnings. However, Ivy League and Ivy-plus students were 60 percent more likely to reach the top 1 percent of the earnings distribution. 

Additionally, an Ivy or Ivy-plus degree nearly doubled students' chances of attending elite graduate schools and tripled their chances of working at a prestigious firm. Graduates of a select few prestigious universities disproportionately hold top leadership roles, according to the report. 

But for aspiring CEOs, a Harvard diploma is not necessarily a necessity, CNBC reported Aug. 2. The Big 10 state schools, including Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin's large private universities, produce the most chief executives. 

"The pathway to CEO is not necessarily an elite university," Alvin Tillery, PhD, a political science professor and director of Northwestern University's Center for the Study of Diversity and Democracy, told the publication. 

His point rings true in healthcare, specifically. Among CEOs at four major for-profit health systems — HCA Healthcare (Nashville, Tenn.), Tenet Healthcare (Dallas), Community Health Systems (Franklin, Tenn.), and Universal Health Services (King of Prussia, Pa.) — there is only one Ivy League degree. Marc Miller, CEO of Universal, holds an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania; every other degree within these executives' ranks is from a public university. 

Most of the 11 highest-paid healthcare CEOs attended universities outside the Ivy ring, at least for part of their schooling. Among the bunch are 17 degrees, only four of which are Ivy League. 

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