The Zuckerberg myth, debunked

While it's true that Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard University and became extremely successful, that is not an experience shared by the vast majority of dropouts and certainly not by other successful leaders, two researchers write for The Conversation.

Jonathan Wai, a research scientist at Duke University, and Heiner Rindermann, a professor of educational and developmental psychology at the Chemnitz University of Technology, recently published a study of the backgrounds of wealthy and influential people.

To complete the study, Wai and Rindermann looked into the college graduation rates of 11,745 of U.S. leaders, including billionaires, multi-millionaires, politicians, federal judges, and CEOs. They also looked at how many of these leaders graduated from elite institutions, including Ivy League schools and other highly ranked institutions.

They found that 94% of the leaders attended college, but only 50% of them attended an elite college. Certain segments had a higher proportion of elite college alums; around 80% of the Forbes' most powerful people attended an elite school.

The bottom line, Wai and Rindermann write, is that college does indeed matter—even if you do not attend an elite school. Higher education not only increases earnings, it also makes us better citizens.

However, the researchers note that many of the leaders they studied did not come from disadvantaged backgrounds. In 2015, College Access Index found that the growth in overall economic diversity at colleges had stalled—the median share of first-year Pell grant students had remained at about 17% since the 2011-2012 academic year.

Wai and Rindermann argue more should be done to promote access and graduation among underserved students. "Helping disadvantaged talented students enter elite schools could promote diversity among future leaders," they write (Rindermann/Wai, The Conversation, 4/19). 

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