Since I created my Twitter account in late 2021, one of the most common comments I've received is that I should've never attended a predominantly left-wing, elite university. After all, why should any self-respecting student attend a hotspot of indoctrination? Instead, I've been told, I should've gone to a “based” school like Hillsdale or a southern state school.
MAGA boomers on Twitter aren't the only ones who view elite universities with contempt. Tucker Carlson often features segments decrying these universities as nothing more than isolated bubbles for the beneficiaries of affirmative action and mediocre children of the elite (his Twitter bio also mocks the privilege Harvard and Yale afford). Charlie Kirk, the president of the largest youth conservative organization, recently published a book titled “The College Scam,” describing universities as pathetic institutions filled with left-wing insanity. “Don't send your child there!” is the gut reaction from conservative pundits to the never-ending stream of stories about woke ideology at top schools.
Let's be clear: is the description of elite universities as bastions for Critical Race Theory, Radical Gender Theory, and anti-Americanism incorrect? Not at all. But using that unfortunate characteristic to justify abandoning the institutions outright ignores a profoundly important fact: elite universities remain the most potent gateways to vessels of power. That will never change in our lifetime.
Consider the institutions that are represented the most on Wall Street. Adjusted for undergraduate enrollment, the top five institutions — the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard, Columbia, Yale, and the University of Chicago — are among the most elite institutions in America. Federal clerkships follow a similar trend: the five most represented law schools by the percentage of their graduating class are among the most elite law schools in the country. You can find similar trends in every powerful field: government, media, think tanks, lobbying, you name it. That's not a coincidence.
Right now, a kid from a low-income family who gets into a prestigious school can earn a job at a top investment firm a few years later and make more money than anyone from their hometown neighborhood. I know several students at my school who match this profile. Absent of having exceptional connections — and kids with those connections will attend a top school anyway — upward mobility with that speed and ease can only occur with a college degree from an elite institution, coupled with the feeder programs at these institutions and the connections available.
Why is this important? Because if conservatives are serious about taking back this country, they can't surrender the very institutions gatekeeping the positions of power necessary for achieving that goal. We will not magically return America to greatness by moving off the grid and starting farms in Nebraska. We can only achieve such a feat by ensuring young people who “get it” are in the nuclei of power, from Washington, D.C., to New York City. A successful movement requires allies in various powerful professions, providing financial and influential support. Attending an elite institution is the quickest vehicle to accomplish that, whether you like it or not.
I agree with the common argument that liberal education at even the best universities is a joke. I've seen first-hand how useless political science classes at an elite university tend to be — you can understand current political issues better by following Twitter users with anime avatars. And even if a university does offer an insightful class, you can usually find the syllabus or subject material online for free.
With that said, conservatives tend to discredit elite universities as a whole because of their useless education, overlooking the actual role of these institutions: tools to ascend into the elite. Conservatives must actively encourage good-hearted, bright young people to seize these tools. Instead, they advise these young people to attend “anti-woke” institutions like the University of Austin to receive a “real” education, surrendering the elite schools to the enemy.
If a student is ambitious and diligent enough to attend an “anti-woke” institution, they can almost certainly make it into a top 20 institution. Even going to a highly-ranked state school would be a better option. While at these institutions, they can receive a “real” education by following the Great Books curriculum and watching related YouTube videos.
The idea that elite institutions are unfathomably unfeasible is also misguided. Princeton was the first university in America to remove loans from its financial aid packages, and 83% of recent seniors graduated debt free. Ivy League universities offer some of the best financial aid packages available, and due to their sizable endowments, their aid packages are often better than what state schools offer. Of course, students should be wise with their college decisions, but if they know their future job earnings will offset the price of college, the investment is worthwhile.
Instead of telling promising young people to avoid elite institutions like the plague, conservatives should encourage them to get into the best school possible in terms of prestige and feasibility. Those four years could very well be the most instructive years of their lives, and the connections and degree could catapult them toward the strata of power. Conservatives cannot afford to surrender elite universities if they wish to recapture positions of power and influence in America.
Daniel Schmidt is a sophomore at the University of Chicago and the editor-in-chief of College Dissident. You can follow him on Twitter @RealDSchmidt.
The views expressed in this article solely represent the author's views and not necessarily College Dissident's.