The Secret of Harvard’s Success

The traditional explanation for US dominance of higher education neglects a crucial piece of the puzzle: America’s innovative governance model for higher education. By putting alumni in charge, American universities have infused the benefits of competition into nonprofit institutions.

AHMEDABAD, INDIA – No country dominates any industry as much as the United States dominates higher education. According to Shanghai Jiao-Tong University’s Academic Ranking of World Universities, for example, 17 of the world’s 20 best universities are American, with Harvard topping the list by a substantial margin.

The traditional explanation for this phenomenon – America’s wealth, large population, generous research funding, widespread private philanthropy, and ability to attract scholars from around the world – is incomplete. Although the US boasts the world’s largest economy, it comprises only one-quarter of global GDP, and possesses roughly one-twentieth of the world’s population. And its support for research is not unique.

Moreover, according to the accepted explanation, large countries such as France, Germany, Japan, and even China and India should also be represented at the top of global university rankings. But they appear only sparsely anywhere in such rankings, if even at all.

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