Excellent press coverage doesn’t come cheap.
This is America — the land of the free market capitalists. While merit should be the basis of prestige, money often plays an outsized role in university ranking lists.
This comes as no surprise: Higher education is big business.
Without accepting a single cent from any of the following universities, Upside Chronicles is digging into which academic institutions are more bark than bite.
We’re taking into consideration the research, faculty, expenses, and most importantly, the net cultural impact these universities have on modern society. We’re operating with a recency bias, focusing on what these establishments have put out into the world, both good and bad, over the last two decades.
So if you’re wondering if the investment is worth the quality education, class is about to begin.
3. Harvard University
That’s right: Harvard University.
To be fair, it would be hard for any institution to live up to Harvard’s hype. The fabled ivy league functions as an old guard for entrenched money to put gold stars on trust fund babies so that they might recognize one another in the real world — and keep everyone else out.
After all, more than a third of the university’s attendees were granted admission not on merit, but on donations made by their parents to the university. That explains the low acceptance rate, a high-ranking factor in U.S. World News and Report’s annual list.
Harvard uses its over-funded endowment (the largest of any university) and centuries-long legacy to buy publicity and prestige. But with the notable exception of the Harvard’s Business Review, the institution’s most meaningful contribution to the world of academia, the university hasn’t put up much nor done right by society over the last 30 years.
Over the last two decades, the most significant businesses to be founded by Harvard University grads include Airbnb, a website that has contributed to the housing crisis, and Fitbit which hardly qualify it for the top global ranking twenty years running.
Even if we peak back further in history, Harvard mostly pumps out Wall Street tycoons who leverage the privilege they were born into to annihilate social mobility in the U.S., exacerbate wealth inequality, and crush innovation and true free markets. After all, this is the university that brought us military industrial complex powerhouse Blackstone, stock market riggers Citadel Group, and American oligarchs, Blackrock who have been aggressively buying up houses, media companies, and just about anything else they can fit into “their portfolio.” Next time we hear a Harvard economist is advising public policy — we should all be very worried.
It’s hard to talk about Harvard alumni without mentioning Mark Zuckerberg. While the net impact of Facebook has come under fire, few could deny that Zuckerberg’s company, for better or for worse, revolutionized modern day society. But least we forget that Zuckerberg actually ditched the stuffy halls of America’s first university and ultimately flew clear across the country to a hotbed of actual intellect in order to bring his vision to life. Harvard gave him an honorary degree, and brags that he is alumni anyways. It feels a bit like a desperate attempt to create an association, when the real story is quite revealing.
Harvard may have scored higher on this list were it not for the impressive biochemistry gene editing work of Jennifer Doudna Harvard Ph.D. While Doudna finished her Ph.D in Harvard’s Medical School, she — like Zuckerberg — left Boston for greener pastures on the West Coast. Her Noble-prize winning research was likewise done on the West Coast.
It’s almost as though Harvard’s best and brightest are smart enough to realize that in order to reach their full potential, they’ll have to go somewhere that merit isn’t something money can buy.
Perhaps one of the most dangerous aspects of Harvard’s overrated status is public buy-in that the institution is prestigious in the same way Stanford or Johns Hopkins are, when it isn’t. A wolf in sheep’s clothing, Harvard is more Old Money exerting influence under the guise of merit, desperately trying to hide what it really is: the establishment itself. Quite frankly Harvard has a net negative contribution to society, mostly serving to exacerbate wealth inequality and justify egregious and socially detrimental policy posing as objective and intellectual contribution.
2. Rice University
How Rice University has made it to U.S. World News and Report‘s best national universities should leave everyone scratching their head. Rice University alumni have not been making waves, creating jobs, filing patents, creating incredible works of art, or doing much of anything.
It does raise the question: How does this university keep ranking so highly when its biggest claim to fame over the last 20 years is one presidential speech writer from about 15 years ago, and the author who wrote Brokeback Mountain? And actually, the writer of Brokeback Mountain didn’t even finish their doctorate there, they just were a candidate at some point in time.
When compared to other universities, Rice University’s output is underwhelming at best. Still, the $50,000 a year school somehow manages to nab a top 20 spot on U.S. World News and Report‘s Top Universities list because of…what, exactly? Even more astonishing, the school ranked No. 5 on the U.S. World News and Report‘s list of “Best Value Schools.” By what measure? One Oscar per decade hardly justifies the $200,000+ cost of a degree from this lackluster overrated university — and that price tag doesn’t even include room and board.
Rice does have CEO and Coinbase founder Brian Armstrong under their belt. Still, compared to universities putting out multiple Noble prize winners, filing patents on new innovations, founding companies that employ thousands of people, or otherwise promoting good in society, Rice University is more bark than bite, more shine than substance, and above all, more money than it’s track record can justify — certainly since the turn of the millennium.
1. University of Southern California
Everyone’s heard of USC — because USC must have one hell of a publicity team. USC’s alumni list are well known people including Robert Kardashian, Spencer Pratt (that one guy who dated that one girl from that one sitcom The Hills back in the early 2000s) and Will Ferrell. Okay, we’ll give you Will Ferrell, but still. These are the sons and daughters of the nation’s wealthy, not the country’s best and brightest.
In 2019, this glaringly obvious reality came to light in the form of a college admissions scandal in which Hollywood stars were caught red-handed paying off university officials to admit their daughters and sons, despite subpar academic records. It’s a microcosm of the larger picture of the university’s legacy — more “You can’t sit with us” than world-renowned think power house.
Perhaps USC would be better off rebranding itself as a formal casting call and football recruitment institution instead of trying to play the academia card or pretending it has any merit from a social or net impact standpoint. Jury’s still out on whether this is adding any meaningful contribution to society in the long haul. At $60,000 a year, which — by the way, does not cover room and board — the ends do not justify the means, and point to USC being an institution with little to offer its alumni, students, and society at large.
A degree from USC feels more like a lettermen’s jacket than it does a testament to someone’s intellect and abilities. Rumor has it that in Southern California, the fabled initials stand for “University of Spoiled Children,” and we’re inclined to agree.
These overrated universities have hardly put out anything worth writing home about, and haven’t meaningfully contributed to society for the better part of two decades. In some cases, they’ve actually detracted from the wellbeing of humanity, while pretending that we should all be paying close attention. Old habits die hard, because for some reason, we have.
Yet, they’re still charging six figures for degrees and being heralded as intellectual powerhouses worth listening to. Their track record says otherwise.
That’s why these three are Upside’s most overrated universities of 2022.