Ivies, Extracurriculars, and Exclusion: Elite Employers' Use of Educational Credentials
Although a robust literature in sociology and economics has demonstrated a positive relationship between education and socio-economic attainment, the processes through which formal schooling yields enhanced economic rewards remains less clear. Employers play a crucial role in explaining the economic and social returns to formal schooling. Yet, little is known about how employers, particularly elite employers, use and interpret educational credentials in real-life hiring decisions. In the following article, I analyze how hiring agents in top-tier professional service firms use education to recruit, assess, and select new hires. I find that educational credentials were the most common criteria employers used to solicit and screen resumes. However, it was not the content of education that elite employers valued but rather its prestige. Employers privileged candidates who possessed a super-elite (e.g., top 5) university affiliation and attributed superior cognitive, cultural, and moral qualities to candidates who had been admitted to such an institution, regardless of their actual performance once there. However, attendance at a super-elite university was insufficient for success in resume screens. Importing the logic of elite university admissions, firms performed a secondary resume screen on the status and intensity of candidates’ extracurricular accomplishments and leisure pursuits. I discuss these findings in terms of the changing nature of credentialism and stratification in higher education to suggest that participation in formalized extracurricular activities has become a new credential of moral character that has monetary conversion value in labor markets.
Rivera, Lauren. 2011. Ivies, Extracurriculars, and Exclusion: Elite Employers' Use of Educational Credentials. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility. 29: 71-90.