Lucas Amaro

The feedback loop that makes universities special

September 2018


Universities are revered institutions that seem to last for centuries. I believe that what makes them so special is the strong self-reinforcing feedback loop they have around them.

Famous universities are exceptional institutions in society. They are highly revered (one could say worshiped) and very long-lived (often centuries old). They are like bastions of the human endeavor.

I believe that a particularly strong self-reinforcing feedback loop is what makes them so special.

I have writen before that college is better understood as a club that offers a bundle of content, social experience, and badge. The feedback loop ties all these concepts together.

Here it is step-by-step:

  1. People aspire to and try hard to enter the famous colleges
  2. Colleges get a large pool of qualified candidates to select from [the filtering step]
  3. Students who are admitted get content and social experience
  4. After graduation, alumni carry the badge publicly and are granted access to the finest work opportunities
  5. Some alumni, always carrying their badge in the public, become “successful”
  6. Society sees their success and infers that the badge must have been a key ingredient
  7. Back to 1. People aspire to and try hard to enter the famous colleges …

More visually:

There is more. The core feedback loop is made even stronger by two side loops.

The first side loop is based on the fact that alumni, old and new, help each other. They network and exchange professional opportunities. Exactly what you would expect in a club.

The second side loop relates to what universities do beyond undergraduate education. Their most relevant secondary activity is scientific research. Every famous university is home to dozens of research labs. Doing science and contributing to progress are great ways to raise any institution’s profile, and they sure do. Call this brand.

Here is the full diagram expanded with the two side loops:

Up next: What will render colleges obsolete?

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