Wednesday, April 24, 2013

BATTLE: Harvard versus Stanford

By Will Oremus

Each year, the Princeton Review asks high-school students and parents across the country to name their “dream college.” Their top choices used to vary from one year to the next, but in recent years a consensus seems to have emerged. Harvard, the nation’s oldest and proudest university, is No. 2. Stanford is No. 1.

I’m dismissive of most college rankings. The annual U.S. News list in particular is a sham, assigning arbitrary weights to a mishmash of metrics in an attempt to reverse-engineer an “objective” formula for excellence. When it doesn’t produce the results the editors want, they change the formula.

But the Princeton Review survey doesn’t claim to be objective, and it doesn’t claim to rank the “best” colleges. What it captures is something less tangible yet more interesting: the higher-education zeitgeist. That zeitgeist has shifted to Palo Alto.

The numbers bear out the opinion survey’s findings. Stanford’s undergraduate acceptance rate has been inching closer to that of the top Ivies for years. This year it passed them, making Stanford the country’s most selective major university, with an admission rate of 5.7 percent. Harvard was second.

The same trend holds in fundraising. Between 1983 and 2004, Harvard brought in the most money of any school in every year save one. But Stanford topped it in 2005—and every year since. In 2012 Stanford became the first university ever to raise $1 billion in a single year. Harvard raised $650 million.

Again, none of these numbers tell us which is the better school. What they tell us is that Harvard’s centuries-old reputation as the nation’s most prestigious university is no longer secure. In terms of exclusivity, wealth, and desirability, Stanford may be the Harvard of the 21st century.

Read the rest here.

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