​Where Did the Elites Go to School?

"[O]f course, most elites didn't go to state schools," writes Matt Phillips on Quartz. His subject is the debate over college debt and whether or not it's a big deal—in his estimation, the complaints about heavy individual educational debt demonstrate the narcissism of "a vocal, college-educated group" that "dominates the mediascape."

It may be the case that people working in the media are personally disposed to worry about college debt—although Phillips is forced to concede that the main writer he is complaining about, the Awl's (and formerly Gawker's) Choire Sicha, "didn't go to college."

But Phillips is indulging in a broader fallacy: the conflation of people who publish opinions on the internet with an actual elite ruling class. It's useful self-branding (who doesn't want to argue against those darned elitists?) but it doesn't do a very good job of describing the relationship between education and power in this country.

The big national political story this week, after all, was the question of whether Senator Thad Cochran (B.A., University of Mississippi; J.D., University of Mississippi School of Law) could defeat his primary challenger, Chris McDaniel (Jones County Junior College; B.A. William Carey University; J.D., University of Mississippi School of Law). A minor noisy sideshow to the story was whether a Princeton-educated reporting intern for the New York Times had too many Democratic political internships on his resume to fairly write about the Republican clash.

A quick Google/Wikipedia check suggests that of the 18 currently listed members of the House and Senate leadership, for the majority and minority parties, 11 have degrees from at least one state institution. If you count William and Mary, a public school that predates its state and its state university, it's 12. Harry Reid has a degree from Utah State. Mitch McConnell has degrees from Louisville and Kentucky.

Do politicians really count as the ruling class? Take CEOs then. Of the 10 highest-paid CEOs in the country last year, five attended state schools, with Larry Ellison, a dropout of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, topping the list. Only two had Ivy degrees. Ellison's overall wealth is enough to make him No. 2 on the Forbes 400—behind only Warren Buffett, who transferred from Wharton to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to get his bachelor's degree.

If you want to talk about who runs things in America, you should go to an expensive private university. If you want to run things, consider a state school.

[Image by Jim Cooke, photo via Shutterstock]