Oddly enough, the schools that comprise the Ivy League, eight private institutions located in the northeastern United States (Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Yale University) did not receive their name for academic reasons. The term Ivy League, or the “Ivies” was first coined in the 1930’s by Stanley Woodward, a sports writer for the New York Herald Tribune primarily as it related to intercollegiate sports, namely football.
Years before this term was created, the so-called Ivy members had already been allied in several sports leagues such as basketball and swimming and Ivy athletic directors were used to working with one another in matters of administration. As a result, in 1954 this informal group became official with the signing of the first “Ivy Group Agreement” addressing only football. The agreement resulted in a complete round-robin schedule in football, beginning with the 1956 season which assured seven spots on an eight to ten game schedule to Ivy opponents. This required numerous concessions from each school and signified a great deal of intercollegiate cooperation. It further confirmed the eight school’s observance of common practices in terms of academic standards, eligibility requirements, and the administration of financial aid for athletes.
While football is where it started, today the Ivy League is globally recognized for its high standards of academic excellence, and attracts the brightest students, scholars and faculty. The Ivies have done a fantastic job of maintaining their high academic standards and refusing to compromise in such areas as athletics to advance their respective athletic agendas. At the same time, they Ivies have still been able to compete successfully in Division I athletics. Today, the Ivies are almost always named among the top ten universities in the country. With an acceptance rate of less than 10%, students are clamoring for a spot at one of these prestigious schools. In fact in the 2011 US News & World Report, the eight universities comprising the Ivies all made the top 15 in the national university rankings.
The Ivy League as an institution has done a remarkable job on capitalizing on its reputation and maintaining a strong brand identity. Partly because of the sense of success that the Ivy League name denotes, graduates of these institutions are recruited by the world’s top companies and organizations and form a large, cohesive alumni network. According to people in academia, just being on an Ivy League campus could play a role in securing a high-profile job right out of school.
Ivy graduates are better positioned to know many people in higher up positions because of the network that is essentially at their fingertips. Successful graduates continue to pay “homage” to their alma maters and accordingly, the Ivies rank within the top one percent of the world’s academic institutions in terms of financial endowments ranging from Brown’s $2.01 billion to Harvard’s $26 billion, the largest financial endowment of any academic institution in the world. Naturally, with such deep pockets, the Ivies are able to attract top-notch faculty in their respective fields, enticing them with grants, money for research and endless resources. Additionally, large endowments at these schools result in more funding per student as well as a lower student-to-teacher ratio and smaller class sizes. This gives Ivies the ability to be far more selective in who they admit to their student body, further perpetuating the elitist mentality and grandiose reputation associated with the Ivies.
Some in academia argue that students are paying big bucks for a brand and not necessarily a higher level of education. In fact, many state universities offer similar curriculum as those at the Ivies, yet do not have the same funding and therefore, lack the resources. “When people hear an Ivy League name they associate intelligence, diligence and preparation to that person — just like Macy’s is a brand, or the Republican party,” said Don Asher, author of Cool Colleges for the Hyper Intelligent. In fact, getting in could just be the hardest hurdle to overcome. It is assumed that if you are accepted to a Harvard, Brown or Yale that there must be something unique and special about you. No one would dispute the fact that the academics are probably challenging; however, how much more challenging than at a state school or another national university is yet to be determined.
Published or updated June 23, 2011.