Study finds fewer Ivy League execs

Yale graduates who go on to work in the executive suites of Fortune 100 companies may be less likely to find others from their alma mater sitting around the boardroom table.

The percentage of corporate executives with Ivy League undergraduate degrees has fallen to 10 percent, a drop of about one third from 14 percent in 1980, according to a new study by the University of Pennsylvania. The study found that nearly half of the executives at Fortune 100 companies now are graduates from state universities.

The importance of an elite education for aspiring executives has “clearly fallen,” according to the survey of the 100 largest revenue-grossing companies in the United States. But the data do not necessarily suggest that Ivy League graduates have been marginalized in corporate America, said study co-author Peter Cappelli, a Penn management professor.

Yale graduates have flocked to business careers in increasing numbers, University President Richard Levin said. The Penn study reflects not that Yale graduates are having a harder time getting corporate jobs, Levin said, but that such jobs are open to more segments of society than once before.

“I think the higher ranks of American businesses today show a much broader representation of universities because of the democratization of American society,” Levin said. “The fact that the higher ranks of American corporations cease to be ‘a club’ is a very good thing.”

Because Ivy League admissions practices have become more meritocratic in the past 40 years, graduates from elite institutions should be better prepared than ever before to land top corporate jobs, Cappelli said.

“I still think it’s quite remarkable that 10 percent of executives at these top businesses have degrees from eight schools when the total number of degrees has risen so much,” he said.

Corporate recruiting at Yale has not decreased in recent years, Undergraduate Career Services Director Philip Jones said. This year, Fortune 100 companies are actively looking to fill positions with Yale students and have been very pleased with the quality of the applicants from the University, Jones said. In some ways, he said, recruiters have become more aggressive than they once were because they now must compete with other companies for potential employees.

Although General Electric is headquartered about 25 miles away from New Haven in Fairfield, recruiters from the industrial, financial and media conglomerate do not give Yalies or any Ivy League graduates special attention for jobs, GE recruiting executive Steve Canale said.

“We really have an attitude that we’re not hiring schools, but we’re hiring students,” Canale said. “We have an open mind in terms of where students come from.”

Some companies are finding it difficult to satisfy Ivy League graduates’ salary expectations, Canale said.

“I’m sure a lot of companies would love to hire Harvard, Yale and Princeton graduates, but they may not be able to compete,” he said.

The study’s findings also may indicate Ivy League graduates are less attracted to careers in large corporations than they once were, Cappelli said.

Jones said the University does not encourage or discourage particular career paths, but UCS has been doing a better job of making students aware of the range of options they face after graduation.

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