March 30, 2007

Reed College

Numerous colleges claim to be unique, but Reed, the small Portland liberal arts college, is perhaps the most paradoxical. Socially, it's notoriously granola 60s-ish, yet its academics are quite Dead White European Male and structured -- sort of a St. John's Lite, which is still pretty heavy.

Most strikingly, even though it doesn't put much emphasis on grades, and its students supposedly smoke a lot of dope, it's also notoriously hard for a liberal arts college.

So, lots of people don't graduate. A famous Reed dropout is Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple and billionaire. A not famous Reed dropout is my cousin Joe, the farmer and thousandaire.

Being hard hurts Reed in the USNWR rankings, because percentage of students graduating is entered as a positive variable in the formula. While over 95% of entering freshman graduate from the three most highly ranked liberal arts colleges, Williams, Amherst, and Swarthmore, only 73% graduate from Reed, which contributes to its #53 ranking by USNWR. Reed freshmen have virtually the same SAT scores (1280 at the 25th percentile, 1470 at the 75th percentile) as #5 Middlebury, but 94% of Middlebury students graduate. Demonstrating Reed's iconoclasm, the president of Reed, Colin Diver, even wrote an op-ed in the NYT in 2004 in praise of the SAT. Practically every president of an elite college depends heavily upon the SAT (and/or the Midwestern ACT), but seeing them admit that in the NYT is, well, unlikely.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

Yearly fees:



Dormitory room


Base board plan B






The slightly above average person just can't afford this, can they?

Anonymous said...

The average person ain't paying full freight at the overpriced colleges.

In other news, my family has benefited greatly from the SAT. It got my dad opportunities beyond his small town in SC, and it got me into some great stuff at a young age. High SAT scores were good protection against the assumption that being from the South means you're stupid. Also, it helped match my sisters and I to appropriate colleges (and majors) -- I imagine if my middle sister tried to major in math where I went, and she likely wouldn't have graduated. But a finance major at a less prestigious school was more her speed, and she's now a CPA.

Anonymous said...

Of course college graduation rate is shown as a positive variable in USN&WR style rankings. Those rankings have nothing to do with academic rigor - it's which school will give you the most bang for your buck. Since most parents are essentially buying an aristocratic title for their child, the best possibe school is clearly one where prestige is high but actual academic demands are fairly low (hint - Stanford may be the best school in the country from this perspective.)

Anonymous said...

Being from Portland and knowing a few people who went to Reed I had a few things to add.

My impression was they have lots of students who are quite bright but flunked/did poorly in high school because they were bored or didn't want to fit in. So it makes sense to me from my antedotal impression that Reed really values the SAT more than other schools.

Although they love their pot, they also big into things like shrooms. One of my friends who graduated from there was pretty proud of his method of calibrating consistent doses of shrooms.

Also their faculty has one of most well known introductory physics textbook authors, David J. Griffiths - both E&M and quantum. I really liked these books. It's nice to see the focus on education and teaching compared to large research universities.

U. Oregon alum

Anonymous said...

Is one of your sons about to graduate and/or go to college?


Anonymous said...

I too live in Portland. I know a lot of Reedies. The school has a self-selecting culture which boarders on cult-like. That more than rigor accounts for their low grad rate. They have a tough screening which ensures anyone admitted has the IQ to matriculate.

Incidentally, the culture of Reed is one of French-cafe-know-it-all. Interesting and fun among those with the IQ to back it up. Insufferable among those without. I, myself, find about 1/3 of Reedies insufferable. YMMV.

Anonymous said...

Not to go OT,but I saw a story about parents' ideal college compared to the kids' choice. Parents wanted Stanford...the little darlings dream school was NYU. Too many Woody Allen movies?

Luke said...

Glad to see the graduation rate is up to 73%. In my day (early 60's) it was around 60%.

Reed has always been socially liberal but academically conservative, though the latter has been watered down over the years, much as at Chicago. E.g, the required Humanities program -- a double course with papers required once a week, and several hundred pages of reading per week -- is now only a one year program instead of two. Us old Reedies think that's a crying shame.

My own take on the college is that it was a 3 star student body with a 1 star faculty -- but, most importantly, with a 5 star institutional and curricular philosophy. (Sort of like the United States: institutions trump personell.) Instead of mastering a limited set of material, as at most colleges (we are talking humanities now, not hard sciences) the whole emphasis was on covering immense tracks of reading and developing the skills to converse on them intelligently, both orally and in writing.

Lastly, grades, while given, were not revealed until after graduation, and then only on request. The effect was to basically make the students grade unconcious, and to focus on the subject matter instead. Grade grubbing was unknown. In comparison to Johns Hopkins, where I spent my freshman year, that was a huge difference, since at Hopkins everybody's grades were posted on the wall outside the professor's office at the end of each semester, a truly horrible practice. This is the one innovation more than any other I wish other colleges would copy.

Reed always let anybody in who could make the SAT cut and, somehow, scrape the money together to pay the tuition. (Financial aid, back then at least, was limited.) The result was a lot of socially immature students, not much on campus social life (European folk dancing was the number one activity), and some real doozy eccentrics. I remember one guy, shaggy and unshaven and unbathed, who basically came down out of the mountains, where he had been living as a hermit. His claim to fame was that he was a math wiz (did well in the Putnam competition for instance) and was the first person I ever saw into rock climbing (around Reed he could scale brick walls!).

Ironically I chose Reed on the basis of a Life Magazine survey which was precurser of the U.S. News ranking system. I wanted girls, liberal arts, and good academics, and at the time Reed had the highest SAT scores in the country among all liberal arts colleges and universities, including the Ivy League (though probably not Cal Tech which wasn't in the list). Even so most of the students were pretty dumb, certainly not in your class, Steve.

Personally I loved the place, but not everybody did. John Emerson for example.

Anonymous said...

There is a conflict of interest in an institution both teaching and test students.

Support a separation of teaching and testing.

Anonymous said...

BTW My comment above for those who may not have noticed means:

The SAT is good but Reed is not good. Reed should focus in teaching people what they need to not testing (flunking people out).

Pass them all let the employer sort them out.

That is way too much money to spend to prove that you will be a good employee. 6 months on the job will tell that much cheaper.

When something is subsidized it will be over consumed. With schooling employers over consume its test aspect and students just over consume it.

That is whay too much money to spend to prove that you will be a good employee. 6 months on the job will tell that much cheaper.

WHan something is subsidized it will be over consumed. With schooling employers over consume its test aspect and students just overconume it.

Anonymous said...

Something went wrong above her is the edited version:

BTW My comment above for those who may not have noticed means:

The SAT is good but Reed is not good. Reed should focus on teaching people what they need to know not on testing (flunking people out).

Pass them all force the employers sort them out.

That is way too much money to spend to prove that you will be a good employee. 6 months on the job will tell that much cheaper.

When something is subsidized it will be over consumed. With schooling employers over consume its test aspect and students just over consume it.

Steve Sailer said...

The only person I've known with any connection to Reed, past, present, or future, is my cousin the farmer.

Steve Hsu said...

Check out the graduation rate at Caltech. It's one of the lowest among elite schools, and yet the average SATs are the highest. Rigor is not a winning strategy for the rankings.

Anonymous said...

Exactly Steve, and that's ... not good for Reed.

All Colleges and Universities will teach a student the basics (they all use the same texts, teach the same stuff particularly in the sciences and finance and economics etc).

So what you're really going to College for is to get certified as being skilled and smart, with your Diploma having degrees of value.

A diploma from Harvard is worth more than Notre Dame which is worth (IMHO) more than Reed. Why? Because Harvard has a largish but extremely well connected alumni group and is very selective. So hiring a Harvard grad means you're likely getting a very bright person with good problem solving abilities or someone very well connected (in theory, practice is another thing). It's like recommending IBM as a service vendor in IT.

Meanwhile Notre Dame is well known (through it's Football program), has a reasonably good academic rep, and has tons of alumi all over the place. Not as well connected as Harvard but there are tons of them.

While you said it Steve. Reed? I don't know anyone from Reed. I know a few people from Harvard personally and a LOT of people from ND.

Which goes to sports programs. Why are they important for schools? It's not the trivial amounts of money they make, but the bonding of alumni to the school and brand-awareness that top programs generate. Duke and UNC rose IMHO to national prominence on the basis of the top-rate Basketball programs (and Duke's horrific LaCrosse lynching by it's PC faculty will conversely hurt it's rep, ranking, and ability to draw top students for generations).

ND of course has been at that for almost a century. So too Ohio State. Or Tennessee. All those fans, alumns, students etc in those stadiums translate into connections graduates can leverage throughout their lifetimes. Making a big time athletic program that's on TV a lot very valuable.

If you can't get into or pay for an Ivy a school like ND or Ohio State is probably the best bet. Because no matter how good Reed or places like it are, they won't have that network effect.

Think about say, Windows vs. Linux, Mac OS X, FreeBSD or OpenBSD etc. It's the same deal.

Anonymous said...

I can't think of any measurable way to test it, but I think that in most cases the reputation of a school is far more important than alumni networking.

Listing a Harvard degree on your resume' will almost always get a recruiter's attention, regardless of where he went to school himself. But if you have a school like Reed (which I admit I'm unfamiliar with - I live in the Southeast) if it's like most small, solid liberal arts schools, there's little awareness and even fewer graduates the farther you move away from the school's location. Many graduates are surprised to find themselves explaining to recruiters just where their alma mater is.

And within a given region, going to a solid school with lots of alumni isn't much help for the opposite reason. There's too many of you around and you end up competing with each other. There are a ton of UNC-Chapel Hill graduates in my part of the country. Solid public university, fine reputation. But, at least around here, there are enough graduates that there's not a lot of distinction in it. In that case, with the popularity of the basketball program, that credential probably has more cachet outside the Southeast.

The only schools I've heard of that do offer substantial alumni networking advantages are the military academies.

Anonymous said...

But there's an interesting dynamic here. Given Harvard had the reputational lead long ago, how do newcomers make a dent in it?

In the case of Caltech or Chicago, it was producing such productive eggheads that they -- at least in academia -- outperformed Harvard on a per capita basis (compare Caltech's Nobels with Harvard's). Reed has done something similar at a less spectacular level. But this rigor is costly for increasing one's appeal to those going into the professions. Attracting potential lawyers, MBAs and MDs means having good training but (relatively speaking) easy grading. This means that there has been huge pressure on all the hard grading schools - Caltech, MIT, Chicago, Swarthmore, and Reed -- to graduate higher percentages of students and soften requirements. Sadly however, the bar has moved. Though all of these schools have seen some grade inflation since the 70s and 80s, relative grading at HYPS has become even more inflated. And of course, none of HYPS have a solid, uniformly tough core that all students must pass.

Anonymous said...

When I looked into applying to law school, about a decade ago, I found out that they all used the same formula to determine admissions. The formula took the student's grade point average and mixed it with his or her LSAT score. The reputation of the school was taken into account, but not as much as you might think.

I wonder if this is still the case today, and if so how many Reed students move on to law school?

Anonymous said...

The predatory Chinese,hindu,sikh and paki legal immigrant thieves and their spoiled and obnoxious "american" born gene-line do not toke up and order pepperoni pizzas, thus denying funds to the local economy.



Anonymous said...

Which goes to sports programs. Why are they important for schools? It's not the trivial amounts of money they make, but the bonding of alumni to the school and brand-awareness that top programs generate.

Sports programs also help make a school better-known outside its region. I used to live in Connecticut, and a common lament among University of Connecticut graduates was that outside the Northeast not many people knew of the school. It had decent academic standards but a very low profile, among the very lowest of any state flagship university, and that could make job hunting quite a challenge in many parts of the country. Fortunately, UConn's successful basketball teams have greatly increased the school's national profile and, I would imagine, have made it easier for job-seeking graduates.

Of course, when we talk of "sports programs" as being important to universities we don't mean all sports. Having the nation's best wrestling or women's volleyball team isn't going to do much. As best I can tell, the only sports teams that are important in this context are (1) a Division I-A football team or (2) a reasonably high-ranked D-I basketball team. There are too many D-I basketball schools for just any team to help.

Anonymous said...

Jupiter's one note samba is off-key and out of tune here. Yes, we'd all like to see more Asians in Asia and Indians in India, but that's not the topic here. In the great scheme of things, Indians and orientals (I still use that "quaint" term because Asia is a very big continent with many different peoples, some white-"oriental" correctly conveys Chinese or Japanese or Korean vs. Russian or Khazar) are not our big problem. Our biggest problem is US, because we won't do what we all know is needed.

At any rate, capitalism is, in theory, the solution. The employer who hires good employees from obscure or downmarket schools, at a lower salary, than those from prestiege schools which are not as good, has a competitive advantage.

I know of firms in various places who only hire people from hardboiled religious schools or from military academies. Almost always those companies fall into the category of "success through long hours and stubbornness" rather than "working smarter". That's not the life for me. I want to work reasonable weeks and retire with a reasonable nest egg young enough to pursue my hobbies.

Anonymous said...

Are the affirmative action programs at Reed and some of the other schools mentioned purported to be more rigorous reflective of that rigor? CalTech supposedly gives no preference based on race and gender, while MIT does.

Anonymous said...

Two thoughts in response to the discussion here:

1) Interesting point about the value of successful sports teams in terms of networking and brand awareness. In that context, it makes sense that the highest paid state employee in NJ is the Rutgers football coach.

2) Also, interesting point by the other guy about the advantage of firms hiring from down-market schools. I worked for an asset management firm once that recruited exclusively from some small Pennsylvania schools for its management training program. The guys running the business did well with that.

Anonymous said...

This is in response to Steve's comment above, that "rigor is not a winning strategy for the rankings."

Keep in mind too that US News absolutely hates Reed because Reed was the first school to refuse to participate in the rankings, basically implying that US News was a childish publication unfit to rank the country's widely varying plethora of different colleges, with widely varying characters and educational approaches, into a silly list of who's better than who.

The year Reed did this US News dropped them into the 4th tier, which was something like #100-150, even though Reed was originally in the ranked in the top 10. So I think it's clear there's more than Reed's commitment to rigor at play in its #50 ranking now, i.e. US News is punishing Reed for not complying.

As far as the "bang for the buck" comments I've seen here, I'd agree that for most people Stanford is probably the best deal. But the types that end up at Reed mostly don't fit in the "most people" category. It's a strange mix of ultra-geeks and hipsters, most with some fixation or another on some academic field. Some are downright freakish and definitely wouldn't have fit in anywhere else that I can think of, except maybe NYU.

For these types students, and especially the ones that want to go on to grad and med programs, Reed's name and reputation for solid academics and no grade inflation does provide excellent placement opportunities. All the Reedies I know who went to grad and med school got into top programs at HYP, MIT, CIT, and Berkeley. Law students seem to get shafted though because of Reed's lack of grade inflation and law school reliance on GPA.

While I'd agree with the posters above that sports brand name is hugely important for broadcasting the reputations of most schools, I think it's different in Reed's case because it's largely a PhD feeder school and sports reputation doesn't play a role in grad admissions decisions. Outside academia, on the other hand, the average employer (at least outside the West coast) has likely never heard of Reed and its name and its rigor won't mean jack to them.