Sunday, September 10, 2006

Back in the gilded age USA

Stopped in NYC on the way home. Great to be back in the states. Perhaps I am being unfair but Europe looked a bit backward and run down by comparison.

Has the world gone mad? A late night sashimi snack for three physicists (two now in finance) can run to $300 on the upper east side, despite amounting to less than 1000 kcal per person. What do the wait staff think of conversations peppered with terms and phrases like "global macro", "Eric Mindich", "they only raised $200M -- think of the opportunity cost", "they're like Susquehanna, only 15 years ago"? Today I noticed that the ratio of trainers to rich yuppies at the gym is approaching one to one.

Best signal of a popped bubble? The Times has launched a magazine called Key devoted completely to real estate. Bad timing, I think :-)

The WSJ has a great article excerpted from Daniel Golden's book on college admissions, which points out how Brown and Duke rose to prominence by admitting underqualified celebrity or rich kids in order to build their brand and endowment. What can I say? It's a winning strategy. There are no legacy admits at Caltech. Hopefully that won't stop them from getting a few million from the guys I had dinner with last night.

What makes Duke and Brown, among other institutions, stand out, is the way in which they ramped up and systematized their pursuit: rejecting stronger candidates to admit children of the rich or famous, regardless of their ties to the university.

...Brown raised its profile by enrolling children or stepchildren of politicians and celebrities, including two presidents, three Democratic presidential nominees, two Beatles and seven Academy Award winners. A particularly controversial case was the son of Hollywood superagent Michael Ovitz, whose application sparked a debate within Brown.

Celebrity students generally lag behind their classmates in academic honors. But their prominence -- and that of their parents -- helped transform Brown into a top destination for students with a creative or artistic bent. Brown accepted just 13.8% of applicants for this year's freshman class, the lowest percentage in its history, as the number of applications rose sharply. Its endowment has risen from 29th nationwide in 1980 ($123 million) to 26th in 2005 ($1.6 billion), although it remains the lowest in the Ivy League.

This success, however, carries a cost. As the number of applicants has soared in recent years, premier schools admit as few as one in 10 students, a far more selective rate compared with a generation ago. To make room for an academically borderline development case, a top college typically rejects nine other applicants, many of whom might have greater intellectual potential.

Some colleges have been known to accept all applicants from a given high school to conceal the development admit, and thereby avert criticism from rejected students. Known in the trade as "considering context," the practice shortchanges worthy applicants from other high schools who might otherwise have made the grade.

4 comments:

wolfgang said...

Steve,

as for expansive meals, I guess it really depends on what you eat.

Anonymous said...

A discussion on finance is still more enlightening than Web 2.0, wisdom of crowds, and tagging...

PS said...

"Perhaps I am being unfair but Europe looked a bit backward and run down by comparison."

Italy - perhaps. But go to Moscow or Kiev and you will be surprised :)

tc said...

"To make room for an academically borderline development case, a top college typically rejects nine other applicants, many of whom might have greater intellectual potential."

That one guy must take up a lot of space.

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