Harvard University was founded in 1636. The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs was founded 329 years later, in 1965. Approximately 6,700 undergraduates are currently enrolled at Harvard, while UCCS welcomed 11,132 students to its lively campus this fall.
UCCS admitted 91 percent of applicants, while Harvard admitted 6 percent. Harvard's tuition and fees total $64,000, while UCCS charges $20,362.50 to Colorado residents. UCCS' endowment is approximately $35 million. Harvard, at $36.5 billion, is more than a thousand times richer.
Harvard's alumni include eight U.S. presidents, 62 living billionaires and 335 Rhodes Scholars. UCCS' alumni include two Colorado Springs mayors (Steve Bach and Mary Lou Makepeace), an astronaut, several Olympic athletes and many thousands of Colorado Springs residents.
If you could choose between Harvard and UCCS, where would you go?
Most of us would head for Cambridge, but not because the educational product is significantly better than that offered at the foot of Austin Bluffs.
We'd go because admission to Harvard, or similar Ivy League institutions such as Yale, Princeton and Brown, offer admission to our de facto American aristocracy. Go to Harvard, and engage with the men and women who will lead and shape your generation. Go to UCCS or any of hundreds of respectable regional colleges, and engage with the men and women who will lead and shape ... regional stormwater policy? Design call centers? Own fast food outlets?
History supports such calculations. Harvard was the first college founded in America, and the Harvard Corporation was the first company.
No business endures for 378 years without brilliant leadership and a deep understanding of its market. Harvard's leadership may be more easily understood by considering the business model that has served it for generations.
Harvard leads an educational cartel, one that deliberately restricts its market to increase demand. Think of DeBeers and the diamond cartel, which for nearly a century maintained the illusion that diamonds are rare and valuable. As Cecil Rhodes, who created the diamond monopoly (and whose estate funds Rhodes scholarships!), remarked in 1896 "[The company's] only risk is the sudden discovery of new mines, which human nature will work recklessly to the detriment of us all."
Harvard's goal is to educate the elite, not increase its share of the educational market. Its mission is not to support the economy of Cambridge or of Massachusetts (although it does both), but to train money-makers and paradigm-breakers. It's a cautious and eminently successful strategy, one that flies in the face of conventional business thinking. Budding entrepreneurs at Harvard's business school learn the truth of the old maxim: "Sell to the classes, live with the masses. Sell to the masses, live with the classes."
Will the strategy work for another 10, 20, 50 or 100 years? In a world with more than a billion Facebook users, can Harvard and its tightly knit cartel continue?
In 1958, I enrolled in a wannabe cartel school, Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. I joined a fraternity whose members were practically guaranteed jobs at the Hanover Bank in New York.
"You don't have to know anything but the 3-6-3 rule to be a banker," one of the brothers told me. "You pay depositors 3 percent, charge borrowers 6 percent and hit the golf course at 3 p.m.!"
Sounded good, but I didn't like it.
"In that case, you ought to transfer to Florida State," said frat brother Phil. "Marry the beautiful blonde cheerleader whose daddy is the biggest developer in Florida, pretend to work, go into politics — governor, senator, president!"
Sounded worse, but sometimes I wonder ... what would Phil say today? I texted him.
"I have no idea," he said. "But I do know that neither of us could get into Wesleyan. Those kids are a lot smarter than we were. Don't worry about it."
But if I were Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust, I would. Competitors such as UCCS are open, agile and unfettered by the past. Harvard and its peers may seem to be settled and immutable, but so did Kodak, General Motors and the Soviet Union — and the Hanover Bank. Companies, countries and brands can disappear in less than a generation.
The 21st Century may belong to the legions who couldn't get into the Harvard cartel, not the few who did.