Ivy loses its luster?

What's an Ivy League degree worth these days? Well, if you have plans to run a Fortune 100 company, maybe not as much as it was 20 years ago.

That's one of the catchier findings in "The New Road to the Top" by a professor at the University of Pennsylvania's business school and a colleague in Spain. It appears in the current issue of the Harvard Business Review. (Apparently, the Ivy League does remain the place from which to scrutinize the Fortune 100.)

In 2001, just 10 percent of the top executives at Fortune 100 companies - the 100 largest by revenue - had an Ivy League undergraduate degree. That's a drop of 4 percentage points - or nearly a third - from the number of Ivy-educated execs in 1980. There's been some "erosion in the importance of an elite alma mater," the study concludes.

Today's executives differ from their '80s counterparts in other ways, too, the study found. They are younger (by more than four years), more likely to come from public schools (up 16 percentage points, or 50 percent), and more likely to be women (11 percent in 2001).

No women were on the list in 1980, note the authors, Peter Cappelli, a professor of management at the Wharton School in Philadelphia, and Monika Hamori of the Instituto de Empresa in Madrid, who mined the résumés of the top 10 officers at each of the 100 largest firms.

But "Ivy League schools still have a lot of punch," says Professor Cappelli in a telephone interview. Graduates of the eight relatively small schools scattered along the East Coast - Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Penn, Princeton, and Yale - still manage to make up 10 percent of the people at the helm of the country's largest companies.

On top of that, it seems that more of those executives earned MBAs from one of the six Ivy League business schools than had in 1980.

Cappelli speculates that Ivy Leaguers simply aren't as interested in jobs with the largest corporations - the General Electrics and Procter & Gambles - as in the past. Today's plum jobs seem to be at financial companies such as Goldman Sachs and consulting firms like McKinsey - which have no shortage of graduates from the elite schools.

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