Why are US colleges and universities so successful?
In a recent study of global universities, institutions from the United States occupied 17 of the top 20 spots, based on academic reputation, graduate accomplishments, and academic journal citations. While the US has a large and relatively wealthy population capable of supporting its universities, this kind of dominance is striking. What can explain it?
One possible reason is alumni involvement, control, and generosity. This is a uniquely American phenomenon. Most of the top-ranked schools have 100% of their Trustee positions filled by alumni. This makes sense. When much of your own personal capital is tied up in an asset that depends on its continued reputation, you’ll tend to look out for the institution’s name and character.
Moreover, these schools tend to have a unitary governance structure with one person in charge—the President. While academic issues are delegated to the faculty, the President is responsible for the budget. And he or she is accountable to these alumni-Trustees.
This matters, especially in a difficult-to-measure and manage field like education. Great leaders create and sustain great institutions—by marshaling the resources and inspiring their people. You can make progress or you can make excuses, but you can’t make both. In life as in leadership, accountability counts.