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Ditch Harvard for a state school: Fmr. Ivy League professor

Lauren Lyster

Hey kids, want to be successful in life? Don't go to Harvard, Yale or another Ivy League college. That's the message from former Yale Professor William Deresiewicz. 

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Why? He lays out his view in his new book Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and a July New Republic article:

Our system of elite education manufactures young people who are smart and talented and driven, yes, but also anxious, timid, and lost, with little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose: trapped in a bubble of privilege, heading meekly in the same direction, great at what they’re doing but with no idea why they’re doing it.

But what is the basis of his vision? Because while a New York Times Sunday book review acknowledges the merits of the author's troubled college campus description, it argues "the coin has another side" that Deresiewicz "rarely inspects. He describes the structures of the univeristy as if they were machines ... yet universities aren't total institutions. Professors and students have agency. They use the structures they inhabit in creative ways that are not dreamt of in Deresiewicz's philosophy."

Deresiewicz tells us in the video above he's describing a "norm" or a "typical product of the system" he's observed after teaching (10 years at Yale, five years at Columbia) and receiving "hundreds" of responses from kids, professor and parents.

In turn, he advocates against a technocratic approach that focuses too much on career goals and not enough on humanities.

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In this day-and-age, however, data indicates wages are stagnant for many, the student debt load is staggering at above $1 trillion, the job market remains problematic and 22 million young adults live at home. In this context, why shouldn't students plan on a practical level for their careers during college or shouldn't they try to go to the best schools to have a better shot at some of the most competitive jobs?

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He says it's not an either/or -- you can study humanities while focusing on practical skills, too. And according to him, studies show it doesn't matter where you go to school.

"What matters is who you are -- the same kid can get into Princeton and go to Penn State and they do just as well financially because what matters is they're smart, motivated, energetic and talented," he argues.

So if a student was accepted to Harvard and Penn State, would Deresiewicz say forgo the Ivy League for the state school? You bet.

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