Is it just me or do elite universities seem to pump out a lot of stinkers these days? I think the college admissions bribery scandal (here, for far-future readers or people who evade the news more successfully than I do) is the best time to talk about this, because it focuses on how ridiculous the system has gotten.

Which is to say: only slightly more ridiculous than we all knew it was supposed to be.

Honestly, I am disappointed by almost all credentialing services, even taken in its broadest sense. I had a coworker who used to be special forces, and I remember management giving him huge opportunities no one else got, and despite that he went around challenging people to pushup competitions and sleeping in conference rooms. It won't surprise you to learn my opinion of him was exceptionally dim. Perhaps boot camp and special forces training gives you incredible discipline – if so, he lost it shortly after discharge. With a sample size of only one, maybe I shouldn't care at all about military service as a signal of workplace competence – quite the departure from my assumption that veterans have a diligence and conscientiousness that would serve them quite well elsewhere.

Of course, I've interacted with plenty of people from "elite institutions" – and let me say, they fair only marginally better. Their workplace etiquette was more finely tuned, but I recall someone taking two months to attempt a task before I ignored them and finished it in three hours. I've had some positive interactions with graduates of elite institutions too, but that was either before their attendance or without knowing their alma mater. Good people signal skill without need for credentials, it seems, so the credentials are mostly used by incompetents. But what precisely are elite colleges even attempting to communicate to me? Should I care, if it isn't competence?

This feels like the time to address alumni networks. Suffice it to say, this is a very bad thing to filter for as an employer. If a contributor of unknown competence can get a job anywhere, dear god, let it be as far from you as possible. If there's anything multi-level marketing has taught us, it's that selling only to your previously-established network stinks, and that's sales, a job defined by connections to people. In engineering, I might be tempted to say graduates from good universities will be, on average, substantially worse than a state school.

Quite a claim, I know. Some people think college in general is useful but it doesn't matter where you go – and others think the entire institution is getting less and less useful (and they already weren't trade schools, so that's a dark path).* But here's my pitch for elite colleges being worse than state schools: Harvard doesn't teach a class about being subordinated to an idiot. They'd need to – no amount of group work would produce that, given their talent for filtering applicants, and teachers there are only mildly moronic at worst. I went to a state school, and let me say, navigating groups of idiots and picking out talent is by far the most useful skill you can learn early in your career. Even if I had more trade-specific training, I think that would still be true. I was terrible at it, sometimes, in school, and sometimes I was even the idiot – but can you imagine entering the modern workforce without any practice working with morons? You'd be doomed!

* Of course, if you think all school is useful and elite schools are even more useful (that quadrant missing in my implicit analysis), you're almost too orthodox to be in my target audience. Perhaps you'd be more persuaded if you considered opportunity and financial cost in balance with benefits, when you read about how useful these things are.