Who Rules America?  By G. William Domhoff, University of California at Santa Cruz

Power in America

The Role of Elite Education for White Men, White Women, and People of Color in the U.S. Corporate Elite

by Richard L. Zweigenhaft, Guilford College

Based on a paper presented at the Elite Education Conference, June 29, 2015, Toronto, Ontario, at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE)

This document about the role of elite college education in rising to the top in corporate America extends previous work on this topic. It starts with two groups of men and women solidly entrenched in the power elite (I have written about each of these groups in previous research I have done). The first consists of all the 4,512 men and women who sat on the boards of directors of Fortune 500 companies in 2011. The second consists of the 123 women, African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans who are or who had been CEOs of Fortune 500 corporations as of January 1, 2015 (and a control group of white male CEOs from similar-sized companies), I look at their educational backgrounds in order to explore the likelihood of their having attended elite colleges and universities, but also to see if the people of color and the white women in these two samples differ from the white men in terms of their educational backgrounds.

I also compare these results with what was found in past work that is now somewhat out of date, and for the most part did not include any special emphasis on women and people of color, mostly because there were few or none. That is, the older findings, mostly on white men in the corporate elite, provide a nice basis of comparison with white men in the corporate elite today, and both groups provide a basis of comparison for white women, African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans who were directors of Fortune 500 companies in 2011 or have been CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.

To anticipate a few of the key results and provide a general picture of the findings, almost one third of these officers and directors (31.9% and 28%) earned undergraduate degrees from elite colleges or universities, which is the kind of over-representation that would be expected if graduates of these schools have an edge in rising to the top. For example, although far less than one percent of Americans have ever earned a degree from Harvard (undergraduate or post-graduate), 9.8% of the CEOs and 14.1% of the Fortune 500 directors had degrees from Harvard. Depending upon the exact minute percent of American adults with a Harvard degree, that's an over-representation of at least 200 to 400% which is about as strong as it gets when over-representation is used as a power indicator. In a day and age when the focus is almost entirely on the wealth and income distributions as power indicators, along with a persistent emphasis on the decision making process, even though decisions are difficult to study due to lack of access and the frailties of people's memories, it is useful to recall that over-representation is at least as good and sometimes better as a power indicator than the other two usual power indicators (e.g., Domhoff, 1967, pp. 5-8, 143-146). As will be shown, this same picture was true in the earlier studies of mostly white men in the corporate elite.

However, these data also indicate that most Fortune 500 directors and CEOs did not earn degrees from elite colleges and universities. Therefore, there are plenty of top executives and directors who are from other schools, so the super-rich may rule, but it appears they do so with considerable help from many middle-class people who have been socialized through a set of increasingly select institutions — which is what the concept of a "power elite," the leadership group for the corporate rich, is all about.

These new findings are based on two samples. The first, and larger, sample consists of a data base that included all of the 4,512 men and women who were directors of the Fortune 500 companies in 2011. I used this data set previously to investigate the frequency with which white men, white women, African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans were directors, interlocking directors, and members of certain policy groups (Zweigenhaft and Domhoff, 2014, pp. xxii-xxv). For this study, I use all of the white women, African Americans, Latinos and Asian Americans in that sample, and the first 1700 of the white males alphabetically by surname.

The second, and smaller, sample consists of all of the white women, African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans who had become CEOs of Fortune 500 companies as of January 1, 2015, and a matched "control" group of white men who have been CEOs of companies ranked similarly on the Fortune 500 list. Although a few white women and men of color had become Fortune 500 CEOs before the turn of this century, since that time the numbers have increased dramatically — by our count, as of January 1, 2015, there had been 123 "new CEOs" as we call them (Zweigenhaft and Domhoff, 2011 and 2014). This study uses all those who were educated in the United States (n=96), and a comparison group of white male CEOs based on the CEO from the next company on the Fortune list. For example, Carly Fiorina, a white woman, was CEO of Hewlett-Packard from 1999-2005, and Hewlett-Packard was ranked #14 in 2007; so the 15th ranked company in 2007, IBM, was used and the CEO of that company, Samuel J. Palmisano, was put in the white male comparison group.

Many of those who have studied the importance of elite colleges have used either the annual rankings in U.S. News and World Report or the six tier system used in Barron's Profiles of American Colleges. Sometimes they collapse those six tiers into three groupings. For the most part, I drew on the categories used by Useem and Karabel in their mid-1980s study as I developed a series of measures:

  1. Did the person graduate from college?
  2. Did the person earn an undergraduate degree that provided them with "superior college credentials" (that is, from one of the 11 schools on the list used by Useem and Karabel)? All 11 of these schools are still highly ranked on the annual list done by the U.S. News and World Report.
  3. Did the person earn an MBA, and, if so, was it from an elite program? Notably, the eleven schools on the list of elite MBA programs that Useem and Karabel used were almost exactly the same schools in the top eleven on the U.S. News and World Report list for 2014, though where they were ranked in the top eleven changed a bit. In order to be consistent with, and allow for direct comparisons with, Useem and Karabel's findings, I used the same list that they used.
  4. Did the person earn a law degree, and, if so, was it from an elite program? The same thing held for the two lists of top law schools — eight of the nine schools remained the same, with UVA having replaced Michigan; I therefore again used the same law schools that Useem and Karabel used.
  5. Did the person earn other post graduate degrees?
  6. Did the person earn an undergraduate or postgraduate degree from one of the top 25 universities or top 25 colleges on the 2012 U.S. News and World Report listing of top-ranked schools ?

Therefore, I drew on these same earlier studies to identify those "with superior college credentials" (those who had attended one of 11 colleges for their bachelor's work), those with "superior management credentials" (those who had attended one of 11 MBA programs), and those with "top-ranking law degrees" (those who had attended one of nine law schools).

However, as can be seen in #6 on the above list, I also broadened the net to include the top 25 national universities and the top 25 liberal arts colleges on the U.S. News & World Report list .This in effect corrects for the continuing growth in the American population; the top 11 schools just can't expand enough to accommodate the same percentage of the population that used to be the case.

So, this study looks at what percentage of the corporate directors received what degrees, and if they attended the most highly ranked schools or other prestigious schools. It also allowed me to compare the educational pathways of the different groups that Domhoff and I (Zweigenhaft and Domhoff, 2006, 2014) have looked at (white men, white women, African Americans, Latinos and Asian Americans).

I only looked at those who studied in the USA. It is, however, important to note that today more top corporate executives in Fortune 500 companies were born and educated abroad. In our research on CEOs (Zweigenhaft and Domhoff, 2014), for example, we have found an increasing number of Fortune 500 CEOs who grew up in India, many of whom earned degrees from the Indian Institute of Technology, a school that according to one writer "is more difficult to get into than MIT, Yale, or Harvard" (Heenan, 2005, p. 96). Similarly, Altbach, Reisberg, and Rumbley (2009) have pointed out that many schools abroad serve as routes to the elite in America. Although I have limited my focus in this analysis to those who have studied in the USA, a more global analysis would include those who were educated abroad, but I would need a way to rank the many schools that they have attended in countries throughout the world.

One more caveat: for the most part these findings depend on what people say about where they went to school and the degrees they obtained. Personality psychologists have shown that self-reports tend to be reliable and valid (Funder, 2012; Sherman and Funder, 2009), and, generally, it is my belief that the information corporate executives reveal about their educational backgrounds is accurate, in part because it can be very embarrassing or worse if they are found to have made false claims. However, there have been some highly publicized cases in which it was discovered that CEOs or other senior executives lied about their educational background. See, for example, the cases of Richard Gonzales, a senior executive at Abbott Laboratories who became CEO of Abbvie, an Abbott spin-off, who falsely claimed to have a bachelor's degree in biochemistry from the University of Houston and a master's degree in biochemistry from the University of Miami (Rosenthal, 2012), and Heather Bresch, the CEO of Mylan, who falsely claimed to have completed an MBA at West Virginia University (Urbina, 2008). Given the thousands of people I included in this study, and their high visibility, I assume that such falsification of credentials happens but is rare (like plagiarism by renowned academics).


Before looking at how many of the directors and CEOs obtained various degrees from elite and non-elite schools, it is worth keeping in mind the make-up of the two samples. As can be seen in Table 1, by far the majority of the Fortune 500 corporate directors were white males (74.4%). White women were the next largest group (13.4%), followed by African Americans (6.7%), Latinos (3.2%) and Asian Americans (2.4%). The column to the right shows the number of white women who have been Fortune 500 CEOs (50), as well as the number of African Americans (18), Latinos (27), and Asian Americans (28); the sample of white males CEOs (122) was a control group, matched by the size of the company.

Table 1: Percentage of Fortune 500 Directors and Fortune 500 CEOs
 Fortune 500 directors*Fortune 500 CEOs
White males3213 (74.4%)122
White females579 (13.4%)50
African Americans289 (6.7%)18
Latinos137 (3.2%)27
Asian Americans103 (2.4)%38
* Percentages are for the 2011 Fortune 500 directors educated in the USA; the numbers in the CEO column refer to all who were ever appointed as CEO in each category, except for the white males, who were a matched group.

Bachelor's degrees

In his classic book, The Power Elite, C. Wright Mills studied the educational backgrounds of the people who occupied the "top two or three command posts" in the 100 or so top corporations based on "sales and capital" in 1950 (p. 126). Drawing on "six or seven careful studies of such executives," including the work of William Miller, Suzanne Keller, and Mabel Newcomer, Mills concluded that these executives were not at all a miscellaneous collection of Americans, but "a quite uniform social type which has had exceptional advantages of origin and training" (p. 127). These men (virtually all were men, and, in fact, almost all were white Protestant men) were much more likely to be from urban than rural backgrounds, and they were very unlikely to have been born outside the USA (only 6%, compared to 15% of the population of white men of comparable ages). Mills also found that 60% were college graduates (only 7% of the white men of comparable ages were college graduates).

Writing thirty years later, Useem and Karabel (1986) updated these findings, and noted that, for the 2,729 senior managers at 208 major corporations that they studied, graduation from college "was approaching universality among senior managers in large American corporations" (p. 184). Still, 16.6% of their sample either never attended college or started and then dropped out, so it was still a ways to universality — only 83.4% of their sample had earned bachelor's degrees.

In my look at the Fortune 500 directors in 2011, I found that graduation from college is now just about universal — 98.4%. For the smaller sample of CEOs, 95.1% had graduated from college, a figure that is much closer to "universality" than it was in the 1980s.

Some of the exceptions among the CEOs are revealing. Consider, for example, the case of Michael Dell, the founder and CEO of Dell (#51 on the Fortune list in 2013, but now a private company). He grew up in Texas, where his father was an orthodontist and his mother a stockbroker. He went to a public high school (but one that was rated as one of the "ten most posh high schools in the country" because it serves "one of the richest areas in Houston, in Texas, and even in the entire country" -- see "Ten Most Posh…2011"). He then started college at the University of Texas, as a pre-med student, but during his first year he dropped out to focus full-time on his emerging computer business. Like Bill Gates (who had attended Lakeside School, a tony prep school in Seattle, and then dropped out of Harvard), Dell had parents who were well-off, and he himself had received an excellent secondary school education. Both were savvy enough to know that they had to seize the moment to take advantage of a great business opportunity, and both probably understood that they could easily return to college if necessary. In the future, the universality of college educations for directors and CEO's should make it necessary to examine the "exceptions" very closely so that the category of "those who did not attend college" does not become a new talking point for the Horatio Alger myth that is actively sponsored by the Horatio Alger Society through its annual award to one or another mythical Horatio Alger (see Pessin, 1984, and Zweigenhaft, 2004).

However, for all the mythmaking, not all of the exceptions — those who did not graduate from college — grew up with such economic privilege. For example, Larry Ellison the founder and CEO of Oracle, was given up by his mother for adoption to her sister and her husband. He was raised by them, and didn't meet his biological mother again until he was 48. His adoptive parents lived on the South Side of Chicago in a middle-class Jewish neighborhood. He started at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign, but dropped out during his sophomore year. He started school again at the University of Chicago, but again dropped out.

Useem and Karabel (1986) reported that 38.8% of their sample earned a BA only and that 11.2% earned them at one of the 11 top-ranked schools on their list. In the sample of 2011 corporate directors, I found that even more of them had earned post-graduate degrees, so the percentage of those with "only" a BA was down to 30.8%. And as in the case of the Useem and Karabel (1986) study, about 11% of those directors had attended the top-ranked schools (10.7%, to be exact). In the sample of CEOs, 42.4% had earned only a bachelor's degree, and 13.8% of them had attended one of the schools on Useem and Karabel's (1986) list, a figure that is once again quite similar to what Useem and Karabel found.

Table 2: Undergraduate degree from top 50 schools (US News and World Report, 2011) among Fortune 500 directors and CEOs
 Fortune 500 directorsFortune 500 CEOs
White males31.3% (n=1717)21.3% (n=122)
White females38.6% (n=487)37.2% (n=43)
African Americans24.5% (n=265)29.4% (n=17)
Latinos28% (n=100)24% (n=20)
Asian Americans34.2% (n=76)25% (n=16)
ALL32% (n=2491)27.8%

As can be seen in Table 2, 32% of the Fortune 500 directors had earned degrees from these schools, with some distinctive differences among the subgroups. Notably, the lowest percentages were for the Latinos (28%) and the African Americans (25%), and the highest percentage was for the white women (39%); 31.3% of the white male control group had attended one of these schools. For the sample of CEOs, 28% had attended one of those schools; the white males were the least likely to have attended one of these schools (21.3%), and the white women were the most likely (37.2%). The differences among the subgroups in this smaller CEO sample were not statistically significant, and even for the larger sample of Fortune 500 directors, although the differences are statistically significant, the effect size is tiny, and so these differences are not practically significant.

MBA degrees

As can be seen in Table 3, in my two samples 35.8% of the 2011 Fortune 500 directors and 28.5% of the CEOs had earned MBAs. This was considerably higher than the 17.1% that Useem and Karabel found in the mid-1980s. More recently, Smith-Barrow (2013) provided data on the educational backgrounds of the CEOs at the top 100 companies on the Fortune list, and Karsten, Brooke, and Marr (2014) looked at the educational backgrounds of the 46 women who were CEOs of Fortune 1000 companies as of late 2014. Both studies provided data on whether these CEOs had earned undergraduate degrees, MBAs, law degrees, and if they had attended Ivy League schools.

The figures on MBAs reported in Smith-Barrow's sample of Fortune 100 CEOs (57%) and in Karsten, Brooke and Marr's (2014) sample (71%) of Fortune 1000 women CEOs were even higher than those in the two samples I looked at. Although I am surprised by how high these figures are, it is clear that in the years following 1986 earning an MBA became part of a much more traveled educational pathway to the top of the corporate world.

Table 3: MBAs in other research and this research
 Completed MBA program
Other research
Useem and Karabel (1986)17.1%
Karsten, Brooke and Marr (2014),
current women Fortune 1000 CEOs
Smith-Barrow (2013), Fortune 100 CEOs57%
This study
Fortune 500 Directors, 2011 (n=2329)35.8%
Fortune 500 CEOs (n=205)28.5%

When I looked at what schools the 2011 directors had attended, I found that 57%, a majority, had graduated from one of the schools on Useem and Karabel's list of top MBA programs, but this 57% is well below the 82% who had gone to those schools in the Useem and Karabel study. Far more had degrees from Harvard (200) than any of the other schools, with a cluster of schools including Chicago, Columbia, and Stanford contending for second place (with between 35 and 40 graduates from each). Moreover, there were striking patterns among the subgroups. As can be seen in Table 4, the Asian American directors were far more likely than those in the other groups to have earned MBAs (55.3%), and they were the most likely of those in the various subgroups to have attended one of the 11 schools on Useem and Karabel's list (34.7%). As can also be seen in Table 4, there were no meaningful differences among the smaller subsamples of CEOs.

Table 4: MBAs among the directors of 2011 Fortune 500 corporations, by ethnic groups
Directors, 2011CEOs
 Completed MBA degreeDegree from elite MBA program*Completed MBA degreeDegree from elite MBA program*
White males37.6% (n=1732)20.1%28.4% (n=109)13.8%
White females31.4% (n=493)17.8%37.2% (n=43)14.0%
African Americans33.7% (n=267)10.9%29.4% (n=17)17.6%
Latinos28% (n=100)15%35% (n=20)24%
Asian Americans55.3% (n=76)34.7%28% (n=16)6.2%
ALL35.6% (n=2329)20.2%31.2% (n=205)16.6%
* One of the elite MBA programs listed in Useem and Karabel (1986).

Law degrees

As can be seen in Table 5, 14.0% of the sample of Fortune 500 directors had gone to law school — a figure that is slightly below the 17.4% that Useem and Karabel found. As was the case in their earlier study, slightly less than half had gone to one of the elite law schools.

The subgroups differed significantly, with the primary outlier being Asian Americans: they were, by far, the least likely to have earned law degrees (only two of the 76 Asian American directors, or 2.6%; both had earned a law degree from elite law schools on the list). In contrast, over 19% of the African American and Latino directors had earned law degrees, with slightly more than half in each case having attended one of the elite law schools).

Table 5: Law degrees among Fortune 500 directors in 2011, by ethnic groups
Directors, 2011CEOs
 Completed MBA degreeDegree from elite law school*Completed MBA degreeDegree from elite law school*
White males13.6% (n=1737)5.2%11.9% (n=109)8.3%
White females12.6% (n=493)5.5%2.3% (n=43)0%
African Americans19.1% (n=267)10.1%35.3% (n=17)29.4%
Latinos19% (n=100)13%5% (n=20)0%
Asian Americans2.6% (n=76)2.6%0% (n=16)0%
ALL14.0% (n=2637)6.6%10.2% (n=206)6.8%
* One of the elite law schools listed in Useem and Karabel (1986).

What about the CEOs? Had they gone to law school? In our sample of Fortune 500 CEOs, only 10.2% had completed law degrees, fewer than in The U.S. News and World Report study of CEOs at the top 100 Fortune companies (20%) or the study of the women CEOs at Fortune 1000 companies (also 20%). As can be seen in Table 5, there were differences among the groups: more than one third of the African American CEOs had earned law degrees (6 of 17, or 35.3%), and 11.9% of the 109 white male CEOs, but none of the 20 Latino CEOs, none of the 16 Asian American CEOs, and only one of the 43 white women CEOs had earned law degrees.

Other advanced degrees

As shown in Table 6, I looked at those who had earned one of three advanced degrees other than MBAs or law degrees: masters degrees (but not MBAs), Ph.D.s, and M.D.s. In the sample of Fortune 500 directors, 23.1% had earned at least one of these advanced degrees, more than twice the percentage in the Useem and Karabel study. These were mostly master's degrees (over 400), but also many who had earned Ph.D.'s (230) and a surprising number (to me) who had earned MDs (54). As can be seen in Table 6, there were clear differences among the subgroups, with the white men the least likely to have earned these degrees (18.5%) and the African Americans (36%) and Asian Americans (36.8%) the most likely.

Table 6: Other post-graduate degrees (masters degrees, Ph.D.s and medical degrees) among corporate directors, by groups
 Directors, 2011CEOs
White males18.5% (n=1731)14.7% (n=109)
White females30.5% (n=465)11.6% (n=43)
African Americans36.0% (n=261)23.5% (n=17)
Latinos24.7% (n=97)15% (n=20)
Asian Americans36.8% (n=76)31.2% (n=16)
ALL23.1% (n=2630)16.1 (n=205)

In the sample of CEOs, though the overall differences were not statistically significant, the same pattern held: the African Americans and the Asians were the most likely to have earned these degrees, and the white men were among the subgroups least likely to have earned these degrees.

All post graduate degrees, combined

Finally, in Table 7, I have combined all post-graduate degrees (MBA, law degrees, and other degrees). As can be seen, the Asian Americans were the most likely to have earned one or more of these degrees (84%), and the African Americans were next (83.1%). The white males were the least likely to have done so (65.1%), but notably a substantial majority of the directors in all of the groups had earned at least one post-graduate degree. The same general pattern held for the CEOs: the Asian Americans and African Americans were the most likely to have earned at least one of these degrees and the white men were the least likely to have done so.

Table 7: Percentages of directors and CEOs who had earned at least one post-graduate degree (MBA, law degrees, masters, Ph.D.s, or MDs)
 Fortune 500 directors, all post graduate degreesFortune 500 CEOs, all post-graduate degrees
White males65.1% (n=1724)54.1% (n=109)
White females73.5% (n=465)53.5% (n=43)
African Americans83.1% (n=261)88.2% (n=17)
Latinos72.2% (n=97)55% (n=20)
Asian Americans84.0% (n=75)62.5% (n=16)
ALL69.2% (n=2622)57.6% (n=205)

A Brief Look at the Big Picture, and then a Look to the Future

Even with all that can be said for the enduring nature of the power elite and the power structure, there have been some changes over time. Today, with a few noteworthy exceptions, all of the directors and CEOs have earned undergraduate degrees. For the men and women who serve as CEOs and directors of Fortune 500 companies, graduating from college has definitely approached universality. Twice as many of the Fortune 500 directors (35%) and almost as many of the CEOs (28.5%).now have MBAs than was true in the past.

Then, too, there are now clear differences in the degrees earned by those in the various groups that were studied. White male corporate directors were more likely than African American or Latino directors but less likely than white women or Asian American directors to have earned degrees from prestigious undergraduate schools (Table 2), but they were the least likely group to have earned post graduate degrees (Tables 6 and 7). The white women directors and CEOs were the most likely to have earned degrees from prestigious undergraduate schools (Table 2), but they were unlikely to have earned law degrees (Table 5). The African American directors were the least likely to have earned degrees from the prestigious schools on the U.S. News and World Report list, but they were the most likely to have earned post-graduate degrees (Table 7) and, especially, law degrees (Table 5).

A Future Agenda — Prep School Graduates at Elite Universities

If you are like me and graduated from a public high school, you were probably surprised to learn that so many of your fellow undergraduates at places like Wesleyan -- where I was an undergraduate in the 1960s -- had gone to prep schools. At Wesleyan at that time, about one third of the students had gone to prep schools, which at first puzzled me, for in my family, the assumption was that if you had to go away to a private school, it meant that you were a juvenile delinquent and needed straightening out. And how did we know who had gone to which schools? In those days, many schools had what were called "facebooks" that included the pictures of and some brief biographical information about one's classmates (yes, that's where the term facebook comes from).

I later learned more about some of these schools when I did a study of the graduates of a program for low-income people of color, the A Better Chance (ABC) program. Founded in 1963, ABC has sent thousands of promising youngsters from economically impoverished backgrounds to hundreds of private secondary schools, including the most socially elite boarding schools in the country. I came to realize that there are prep schools and there are boarding schools; there are boarding schools and there are those that E. Digby Baltzell (1958, p. 306) identified as the "leading Protestant boarding schools in America," from which Cookson and Persell drew what they called "the select 16" (Cookson and Persell, 1985, p. 43); there's the select 16, and then there are the six very socially prominent schools that some scholars have referred to as "St. Grottlesex" (by which they mean St. George's, St. Mark's, St. Paul's, Groton, Kent, and Middlesex, see, for example, Levine, 1980, p. 68). As I visited some schools to interview the headmasters and others who had been involved with ABC in its early years, I gradually learned more about them.

The ABC success stories are many. Among those you might have read about are Deval Patrick, the former Governor of Massachusetts, an ABC graduate of Milton (1974), and, more recently, Michelle Roberts, the head of the players' union for the National Basketball Association (NBA), a 1973 graduate of The Masters School. A visit to the ABC web site, or a look at the second edition of our book on the ABC program, Blacks in the White Elite: Will The Progress Continue? (Zweigenhaft and Domhoff, 2003), will guide you to many others.

After the first edition of that book was published (Zweigenhaft and Domhoff, 1991), I was asked to speak at a few of these schools, and I learned even more in the process. In other words, these visits also became the occasion for what might be considered casual field work, a chance for me to ask many questions.

So that is why I came to believe that we need to do more and better studies of these prep schools. Hopefully, this paper might turn into a first step in a larger and more challenging project. Prep schools may provide the pipeline to the elite colleges and universities even more than is generally realized. Trying to study the pathways that have led men and women to the power elite has various methodological challenges, one of which is that people in power don't talk much about the privileges they grew up with, including their attendance at elite boarding schools.

This is especially true for politicians. Because elite boarding schools are thought of as bastions of privilege, and politicians typically claim to represent "the people," it is not surprising that politicians rarely acknowledge their boarding school backgrounds. Consider the six men who were on the Democratic and Republican presidential tickets in 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012. How often did George W. Bush talk about Andover, Al Gore talk about St. Albans, John Kerry talk about St. Paul's, Obama talk about Punahou, John McCain talk about the Episcopal School, or George Romney talk about Cranbrook School? It is no coincidence that so many of the country's Presidents (including FDR and JFK) and serious presidential contenders went to elite boarding schools. Despite their claims to the contrary, as the title of one of the best books about prep schools suggests, these schools are about "preparing for power" (Cookson and Persell 1985).

Therefore, it would be very useful for a more fine-grained study of the American power structure to be able to study the percentage of directors and CEOs who attended private versus public schools, schools on Domhoff's list, schools on Baltzell's list, or the St. Grottlesex schools. This is especially the case because there is evidence that the graduates of those prep schools are very well represented at the most elite Ivy League colleges. For example, Yaqub (2002) looked at the 100 secondary schools that were most likely to send students to Harvard, Yale or Princeton between 1998 and 2001, and she found that 90 of the 100 were private schools. Among those that sent more than 15% of their graduates to one of these three Ivy League schools were Groton (17.9%), Milton Academy (15.8%) and Andover (15.7%). It's also notable and important that a number of elite schools in New York City, like Brearly (20.9%) and Collegiate (20%), are hugely over-represented in the Ivy League, which may mean that the rich and powerful are now just as likely, or more likely, to have their children educated where they live, not in isolated boarding schools as in the old days. Similarly, Laneri (2010) looked at the rates of admission to several Ivy League schools, MIT, and Stanford, and found that 20 private schools, mostly boarding schools, but also some day schools in Boston, Los Angeles, and New York, placed, on average, 33% of their students in this "Ivy/MIT/Stanford pipeline."

But corporate executives are hesitant to reveal that they have attended elite secondary schools for they, too, are prone to perpetuate the myth that they pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps (see, for example, Zweigenhaft, 2004). However, the work by Yaqub (2002) and Laneri (2010) could be developed further by studying the full range of elite high schools represented at one or two elite universities, such as Harvard and Stanford (in 2014, according to the U.S. News and World Report, Harvard was #1 and Stanford was #2). It would also be useful to study alumni lists from a few elite prep schools to see where their graduates went to college, and not incidentally, how many of them ended up in the corporate elite, or, more generally, the power elite. But obtaining useful lists, whether from Harvard, Stanford, or prep schools, is not easy. It takes a little bit of snooping and networking, which social scientists seem reluctant to do when it comes to the higher levels of society. In that regard, it is noteworthy that Yaquib and Laneri are both journalists, not social scientists.

In other words, a much more complete picture of the importance of elite educational experiences for corporate directors and CEOs could emerge if we had good data on secondary school attendance. Based on the tendency not to report private school attendance in public sources, the findings we have might only be scratching the surface.

But whether or not we ever have the full story on just how many members of the power elite go to elite schools, we have to keep in mind that elite educational experiences are part of a larger set of processes that lead to social reproduction. Even before many youngsters attend elite prep schools, colleges, and post-graduate programs, they have been raised and socialized by parents who have used distinctive forms of child-rearing and who have served as role models (see, for example, Lareau, 2003; Kusserow, 2012; Lareau and Calarco, 2012; Stephens, Fryberg, and Markus, 2012; Weis, Cippolone, & Jenkinds, 2014). Moreover, as Baltzell (1958, 1964), Domhoff (1967, 1970), and Kanter (1977) argued long ago, and Rivera (2015) persuasively demonstrated quite recently, when it comes to getting in, and moving up, the corporate hierarchy, elite educational credentials are only part of what goes on as the doors open for some, and remain closed to others.


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