If I Were a Billionaire: Coyote College

My daughter and I did the whole college visit thing last week -- 8 colleges in five days.  In doing so, I was struck by the fact that all these great schools we visited, with one exception, were founded by rich people no more recently than the 19th century.  Seriously, can you name a college top students are trying to get into that was founded since 1900?  I think Rice University in Houston was founded in the 20th century but it is still over 100 years old.

The one exception, by the way, was SCAD, an art school in Savannah, Georgia.  SCAD is new enough that it is still being run by its founder.  I am not sure I am totally comfortable in the value proposition of an expensive art school, but I will say that this was -- by far -- the most dynamic school we visited.

So here is what I would do:  Create a new not-for-profit university aimed at competing at the top levels, e.g. with the Ivy League.  I would find a nice bit of land for it in a good climate, avoiding big cities.  The Big Island of Hawaii would be a nice spot, though that may be too remote.   Scottsdale would not be a bad choice since its bad weather is during the summer out of the normal school year and land is relatively cheap.

Then, I would take the top academic kids, period.  No special breaks for athletes or tuba players.  It would have some reasonable school non-academic programs just to remain competitive for students - maybe some intramurals or club sports, but certainly no focus on powerhouse athletics.  We could set a pool of money aside to help fund clubs and let students drive and run most of the extra-curriculars, from singing groups to debate clubs.  If students are passionate enough to form and lead these activities, they would happen.

And now I need a reader promise here - if you are going to read the next sentence, you have to read the whole rest of the article before flying into any tizzies.

And for the most part we would scrap affirmative action and diversity goals.  We are going to take the best students.  This does not mean its pure SAT's - one can certainly look at a transcript and SAT in the context of the school kids went to, so that smart kids are not punished for going to a crap public high school.

Realize I say this with the expectation that the largest group of students who will be getting affirmative action over the next 20 years are... white males.

What?  How can this be?  Well it is already nearly true.  Sure, historically everyone has focused on reverse discrimination against white males when colleges were dealing with having twice as many men than women and they had few qualified black or hispanic candidates.  But my sense is that few white males any more lose their spot in college due to competition from under-qualified minority candidates.

That is because there is an enormous demographic shift going on in college.  In fact there are three:

  1. Girls rule high school and higher education.  Yes, I know that women steeped in "Failing at Fairness" will find this hard to believe, but undergraduates are something like 56% women nowadays.  As we toured Ivy League schools, we were on tours with about 6 prospective female students for every one guy.  Back when my son played high school basketball, on the walls of various high schools he played at were pictures of their honor societies.  Time and again I saw pictures of 20 girls and one or two forlorn boys.  If top schools want to keep their gender numbers even, then they are going to have to start affirmative action for boys, if they have not done so already (I suspect they have).
  2. Asians are being actively discriminated against.  Schools will never ever admit it, because they are getting sued by Asian prospective students (I know Princeton has been sued) but reverse discrimination against Asian students is becoming more and more intense.  The bar for Asia females already is way higher than the bar for white males in top schools, and it likely will only get worse
  3. Foreign students bring in the cash.  Ivy League schools have a ton of international students, which makes sense as they strive to be international institutions.  But one thing they will not tell you is that there is another reason for bringing in foreign students:  For most schools, their need-blind admissions policies and increasingly generous financial aid packages do not apply to foreign students, or apply on a much more limited basis.  The average tuition paid by international students is thus much higher.  I suspect, but cannot prove, that under the cover of diversity these schools are lowering their standards to bring in students who bring the cash.

So we scrap all this.  If the school ends up 80% Asian women, fine.  Every forum in one's life does not have to have perfect diversity (whatever the hell that is), and besides there are plenty of other market choices for students who are seeking different racial and ethnic mixes in their college experience.   We just want the best.  And whatever money we can raise, we make sure  a lot of it goes to financial aid rather than prettier buildings (have you seen what they are building at colleges these days?) so we can make sure the best can afford to attend.  Getting good faculty might be the challenge at first, but tenure tracks have dried up so many places that my gut feel is that there are plenty of great folks out there who can't get tenure where they are and would jump at a chance to move.  You won't have Paul Krugman or Bill McKibben type names at first, but is that so bad?

We know the business community hires from Ivy League schools in part because they can essentially outsource their applicant screening to the University admissions office.  So we will go them one better and really sell this.   Hire any of our graduates and you know you are getting someone hard-working and focused and very smart.

I don't know if it would work, but hell, I am a billionaire, what's the risk in trying?


  1. Joshua Vanderberg:

    Also, accept no Federal educational dollars - the minute you do, your goose is cooked.

  2. GilM:

    Why? Is there a big problem that this would solve? It seems that universities (in their current form) are on the way out; not in need of more capacity. Maybe you'd like to open a buggy whip factory, too.

  3. johnbr:

    You should read David and Goliath - the section on college choice and the counterintuitive results of same was absolutely fascinating, and highly relevant to this idea.

    and GilM - universities may diminish, but IMO they're not going to collapse. MOOCs may be the right way to gain knowledge, but universities create something else nearly equally valuable: social-network capital.

  4. jdgalt:

    There is certainly unfair discrimination against men and whites going on (and "diversity" is just an excuse for it), but suits against it are unlikely to get anywhere so long as the US Supreme Court has 3 Obama appointees on it. To get away with a race-neutral admissions policy you are going to have to refuse all federal aid, including student loans, as Hillsdale College has done. There are other good reasons you should follow that policy, too.

    Which creates a huge financial problem. The main effect of the present student-aid regime has been to flood the system with money, thus driving college tuitions way up. If you have to refuse those sources of money, you won't be able to charge comparable prices unless you intend to allow only the super-rich at your school.

  5. August:

    You might want to make better tests and then let a lot of people, not just your standard students, take them. There are a lot of us spinning our wheels. Academia has not been about pushing the knowledge envelope forward for many years, so there are a lot of frustrated people out here. A truthful, intelligent man could not survive in climatology- to mention only one bit of obviousness. The caveat to having 80% Asian females is that you'll have too much conformity and not enough idea generation. Academia is already rife with rent seekers.

  6. OldNHMan:

    A new school NOT 100 years old:

    Olin College just outside of Boston was chartered in 1997 and opened its doors in 2002. It is a college of Engineering and was ranked #4 by US News and World Report and in the top 20 in 12 different lists in the Princeton Review rankings.

    One of my nieces applied to Olin, MIT, Cal Tech, Georgia Tech, Rochester, and others. The only college to which she was wait-listed was Olin. My understand is that it is an outstanding engineering school and takes a somewhat different approach to teaching engineering than most, that being hands-on study by students right from the get-go.

  7. V:

    Oooh, easy one because I went there - Harvey Mudd College. Founded in 1955, ranked as the 12th best liberal arts college in 2013. Also look at Olin College; founded in 1997 and quickly becoming a top engineering school.

  8. OneEyedMan:

    Carnegie Mellon University is top 25 and founded in 1900. I guess that depends on if you think centuries start in years ending in 1 or 0. I recall that being controversial at the turn of the millennium.

  9. OneEyedMan:

    Oh, and I recall even 15 years ago that the 300+ best colleges book said that men were accepted in Vassar with lower academic qualifications than women

  10. jdgalt:

    Most of the present universities have discredited themselves by extreme leftist bias, not just in admissions and student-behavior policies but in hiring and tenure, to the point where the "Occupy" people ought to have blamed their difficulty finding jobs on them (and maybe sued them for fraud).

    But that doesn't mean there's no market for good universities. Granted, both students and employers will now want to do their own research, since the accreditation organizations, both public and private -- and the most widely read rating sources, such as Newsweek magazine -- are controlled by the same faction that is causing the problem.

  11. jimbeaux:

    Actually, the university gender gap is worse than you described. At the University of Georgia in Athens, where I live, 60% of undergraduates are women. At other universities (I checked with the University of Illinois), the number is higher - 65% of students are female. So it's a great time to go to college if you're a guy - you'll be one of the few men, and the women will be vying for your attention!

  12. KR:

    Well, unless you go to engineering school. My alma mater is up to over 30% women now, which is a huge increase from when I was there a decade ago. Certainly the same trend, though, just starting from a different point.

  13. Mike:

    Caltech and Harvey Mudd fit most of your description, though Caltech is just over 100 years old.

  14. Ben:

    I second Mike's comment -- Caltech seems to fit this description very closely, except there's a bunch of asian guys rather than a bunch of asian girls (although they are there too of course). One problem is that not selecting for well-roundedness produces a student body that is...not particularly well-rounded. I was not particularly fond of this aspect when I went there.

  15. drB:

    May be you will explain how engineering and chemistry graduates will perform online lab courses which is what matters for companies hiring them. Oil company does not want a chemist who has not taken lab courses and proven that he will not burn the $1bn plant down.

  16. Another_Brian:

    My own alma-mater almost meets the criteria, but Terre Haute, IN is not exactly what I would call a pleasant climate this time of year. Rose usually ranks right up there with Harvey Mudd and Caltech for undergraduate engineering programs.

  17. norse:

    Please consider funding one once you get tired of the concession business. You'd single-handedly give me hope for my future children's education, not to mention America as a whole. :D

  18. GilM:

    You're right. This type of competence is impossible to demonstrate without the current institutions, organized pretty much as they have been for hundreds of years.

  19. Craig:

    Of the most competitive, Caltech is the only meritocracy. Ron Unz has written an amazing article on how colleges discriminate for and against various ethnic groups and lifestyles. Do not include ROTC or 4H with your extracurriculars. If you volunteered at Planned Parenthood or campaigned against the death penalty, be sure and include these activities.

    Highly recommended! http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/the-myth-of-american-meritocracy/

  20. obloodyhell:

    }}} The one exception, by the way, was SCAD, an art school in Savannah, Georgia. SCAD is new enough that it is still being run by its founder. I am not sure I am totally comfortable in the value proposition of an expensive art school, but I will say that this was -- by far -- the most dynamic school we visited.

    I have a friend who went there in the early 1990s aiming towards an architectural degree. He thought well of it. There's a lot of stuff around there to teach students about design alternatives, just because there's a reverence for the "old stuff" which means you don't find nothing but Bauhaus homers there...

  21. obloodyhell:

    }}} The main effect of the present student-aid regime has been to flood the system with money, thus driving college tuitions way up

    Actually, this has only been an enabling force, it has not caused it.

    Even back in the 1970s, long before there was a lot of "help" in that direction, colleges were using the "We're below the median" justification to jack up tuition rates. And of course, three state college systems go from (hypothetically) #27, #30, #33 to #20, #22, and #24, respectively, that means that three OTHER schools are now "below the median" (@25/26), while others drop further down still from the median... and THEY start to agitate to raise tuition because THEY are "well below the median".

    It's an obvious ratchet effect with no ratchet release mechanism.

    The fact that this means tuitions have nothing to do with costs or changes in costs explains how tuition is up by a factor of 6x since the 70s while inflation is only up by 3x in the same timeframe.

  22. drB:

    The ultimate judge of success in schooling is the ability of student to increase his earnings due to that schooling. Students who had lab experience, even these days, get multiple job offers in chemistry and related fields. Ones without get none in their field of study. I have worked for a chemical company and I know what they are looking for when they hire, and it definitely is not diploma from an online school. There are some industries in this country which still produce something, and they do want people who have had practical training, which is impossible for the new paradigm of typing everything online.

    Your answer contains no facts, just sarcasm and due to that I assume that you have no facts to back up your claims.

  23. drB:

    Try Texas A&M - a great school and by no means left. Also relatively cheap.

  24. WG:

    Well, were your school to exceed, say, a 50% Asian population, you might find it would cease to be attractive to many Asians. That's because they're looking for more than a good education, they're looking to perfect their English, absorb Western culture, and plug into Western student networks. In short, they're looking for an American experience. But you're right about the money. International (prep) schools in Switzerland—which now cost around $100K per year—are increasing financially dependent on students from Russia, the Persian Gulf states, and Asia—particularly India and China.

  25. GilM:

    I never made the claims you imagine. I never wrote that future institutions will be 100% online. There are valuable things that require in-person interaction and expensive apparatus, etc.

    I'm just very skeptical that they will resemble the current university setup with all of its expensive and irrelevant baggage. So, anybody dreaming of creating a new university, but with different acceptance criteria, would do better to imagine more radical deviations from the present ones that exploit new technology and future demands.

  26. drB:

    There is a lot of baggage - but it has been added to universities in last 40 years or so. Before they were quite efficient at what is important (teaching useful knowledge), and not in teaching diversity, sensitivity, exploring inner self, and conforming to idiotic rules and regulations. So, in a sense universities just need to go back to where they were in early 60's. Humans are the same now as they were 400 years ago, and I doubt that new and more efficient teaching methods can be developed.

  27. Craig L:

    However, a school with 80% Asian gals would attract a certain type of male applicant.

  28. Sam L.:

    "You won't have Paul Krugman or Bill McKibben type names at first, but is that so bad?"

    You don't want those names, or people like them, at all. No. Way.