Alma Mata Index: Ranking universities by where their CEOs went to college

Time’s Higher Education continues to feed the monstor coming up with a ranking of Global universities based on where they went to universities. Simple enough premise: 

1) Take the 500 companies from the global 500 

2) Identify where their CEOs went to universities–all actual degress awarded. So say you went to University of Victoria for Undegraduate and University of Califronia, Berkeley for Graduate school, both universities get one point. 

3) Factor in the total revenue of the alumni CEOs’ companies-the more money, the higher the ranking. 

And voila you have a list. You can read the whole story here.

As one observer (Mark Freebairn, a partner at top City headhunters Odgers Berndtson) notes, “For prospective employers there is comfort in the fact that someone has been selected ahead of a lot of other applicants. It means they are obviously bright. Passing that selection process is an endorsement for employers.” Or is it just laziness?

Seriously, the sample size was less than 500 people. While many CEOs have two or three degress, this will only bump the number up slightly. Actually, for the top 100 universities, the tall of degress comes to 390 awarded. I expect there is a long tale of 100 more universities with one CEO. Certainly a typical CEO would have an undergaduate degree and a graduate school degree–probably MBA or Law. Indeed, the top 10 male CEOs have a total of 15 degrees collectively, or 1.5 on average. Female CEOs have to work harder (or perhaps are just smarter) judging by the number of degress earned-19, or 1.9 each. 84 universities had fewer than 6 degress awarded. Not exactly a resounding endorsement for such power houses as Columbia  or Yale(6), Oxford (5), USC (4), Umich (3) and Brown (2). 

Focusing only on the top 12, the sample size continues to be rediculously low coming in with a total of 159 degress awarded or just 13 each. While there might be some statsitical significance in relation to running a fortune 500 company, it pales in comparrision as to how many graduated from these same universities and are NOT running a fortune 500 company. Take Harvard, ranked number 1, with 31 degrees awarded. One can only asume that the degrees awarded spread out over multiple years and both undergraduate and graduate school. (A side note: Of the top 20 male and female CEOs, not one did their undergraudate at Harvard). Let’s just pretend that all CEOs graduated at the same time. 31 came from Harvard. In 2009, Harvard awarded a total of 7234 degrees (this includes undergraduate and graduate degrees like law and MBAs). 31 of 7234 went on to be CEOs. This would make a rather sad ratio of one in every 233 degrees, IF they all came from the same year. But they did not. They were spread out, one can fairly assume over a 20 year period. So let us guestimate that Harvard awards at least 7000 degrees every year for 20 years. So less than .03 percent of Harvard Degree earners went on to run a global 500 Comapny. Not exactly a reason to write home now is it?

To be fair, Harvard alum go onto to do MANY great things:


Fairburn acknowledges that ““While people still look at where a candidate went to university, and the quality of degree and what they studied, by the time someone is 45 with 20 years’ experience, it is less relevant. But it has an impact in the first three to five years. By then the advantage is established and it is difficult for laggards to catch up.”

Malcolm Gladwell took to task this sort of faulty thinking by distinguishing Treatment effect vs Selection Effect:


Social scientists distinguish between what are known as treatment effects and selection effects. The Marine Corps, for instance, is largely a treatment-effect institution. It doesn’t have an enormous admissions office grading applicants along four separate dimensions of toughness and intelligence. It’s confident that the experience of undergoing Marine Corps basic training will turn you into a formidable soldier. A modelling agency, by contrast, is a selection-effect institution. You don’t become beautiful by signing up with an agency. You get signed up by an agency because you’re beautiful.

At the heart of the American obsession with the Ivy League is the belief that schools like Harvard provide the social and intellectual equivalent of Marine Corps basic training—that being taught by all those brilliant professors and meeting all those other motivated students and getting a degree with that powerful name on it will confer advantages that no local state university can provide. Fuelling the treatment-effect idea are studies showing that if you take two students with the same S.A.T. scores and grades, one of whom goes to a school like Harvard and one of whom goes to a less selective college, the Ivy Leaguer will make far more money ten or twenty years down the road.

Times Higher Education is suggesting that where you goes. But the research does not fully bear this out. Alan Krueger and Stacy Dale (1999) found that “students who attended more selective colleges do not earn more than other students who were accepted and rejected by comparable schools but attended less selective colleges.” Indeed a decade later, they revealed that it did not matter if you got into an elite school–if you had the numbers:“Even applying to a school, even if you get rejected, says a lot about you,” Mr. Krueger told me. He points out that the average SAT score at the most selective college students apply to turns out to be a better predictor of their earnings than the average SAT score at the college they attended. (The study measured a college’s selectivity by the average SAT score of admitted students as well as by a selectivity score that the publisher Barron’s gives to colleges.)”

A final word rom Kruger


My advice to students: Don’t believe that the only school worth attending is one that would not admit you. That you go to college is more important than where you go. Find a school whose academic strengths match your interests and that devotes resources to instruction in those fields. Recognize that your own motivation, ambition and talents will determine your success more than the college name on your diploma.

My advice to elite colleges: Recognize that the most disadvantaged students benefit most from your instruction. Set financial aid and admission policies accordingly.




And the top universities, according to Times Higher Education?


1 Harvard University US–31 degrees, 25 CEOs

2 University of Tokyo JAP–14 degrees, 13 CEOs 

3  Stanford University US 13 degrees, 11 CEOs

4  École Polytechnique FRA 12 degrees, 12 CEOs

5 HEC Paris FRA 10 degrees, 9 CEOs

6 ENA, École Nationale d’Administration FRA 9 degrees, 9 CEOs

7 University of Pennsylvania US 9 degrees, 8 CEOs

8 Massachusetts Institute of Technology US 9 degrees, 7 CEOs

9 Keio University JAP 8 degrees, 8 CEOs

10 Seoul National University KOR 8 degrees, 8 CEOs 

11 Cornell University US 8 degrees, 6 CEOs

12 INSEAD FRA 7 degrees, 7 CEOs

13 Tsinghua University CHN 7 degrees, 7 CEOs

14 University of Chicago US 7 degrees, 6 CEOs 

15 Northwestern University US 7 degrees, 6 CEOs