Tess Wilkinson is Director of Education Services at Henley & Partners Education.
The cost of an outstanding education is high, and parents invest small fortunes to give their children the best possible start to their careers, so looking at outcomes is just as important as the quality of education. As the Top 20 Universities for Centi-Millionaires data reveals, almost a quarter (24.9%) of the world’s centi-millionaires were educated at just 20 universities.
Eleven of the Top 20 universities in terms of graduates who have gone on to become centi-millionaires with investable assets of over USD 100 million are in the USA. These premium American educational institutions account for 16.6% of the global centi-millionaire population, with three Ivy League colleges — Harvard (3.8%), Stanford (2.2%), and the University of Pennsylvania (1.9%) — leading the way.
Among Harvard’s wealthiest undergraduate alumni are Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer, whose vast fortune comes from his time leading Microsoft, and Brazilian investment banker, Jorge Paulo Lemann, who owes his extensive net worth to wise deals in the food and beverage industry. Stanford’s notable affluent alumni include professional golfer Tiger Woods, Indian business mogul Mukesh Ambani, and the world’s richest self-made actress Reese Witherspoon, while centi-millionaire singer-songwriter John Legend, fashion designer, businesswoman, and philanthropist Tory Burch, and the world’s wealthiest person, Elon Musk, all attended the University of Pennsylvania.
Remarkably, America has seven colleges in the Top 10 rankings, with the other four being Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where 1.7% of the world’s centi-millionaires graduated, Yale University, also 1.7%, Columbia University, which has produced 1.4% of global centi-millionaires, and Princeton University, 1.2%. Further down in the rankings are Cornell, with 0.8% of the world’s centi-millionaires among its alumni, the University of California, Berkeley (0.7%), and the University of Chicago and the University of Southern California (both 0.6%).
The UK has four Top 20 universities, with two in the Top 10, and between them they have produced 4.5% of the world’s centi-millionaires. In 4th place, the University of Oxford has seen 1.7% of the world’s centi-millionaires pass through its halls (the highest in the UK), while the University of Cambridge in 7th place has 1.4% of the global centi-millionaire cohort among its graduates.
Oxford’s alumni include dozens of heads of state, including 26 British prime ministers, as well as 50 Nobel Prize leaders. Notable centi-millionaire Oxonians include the actor Hugh Grant and Hussein bin Abdullah, the Crown Prince of Jordan, while the actor and comedian Sacha Baron Cohen is a Cambridge graduate.
Two London universities make it into the Top 20 for centi-millionaires: London School of Economics in 13th place has produced 0.8% of the world’s centi-millionaires and 17th placed London Business School 0.6%.
France has two universities in the Top 20, their alumni constituting 1.5% of the global centi-millionaire population between them. INSEAD is ranked 10th, with 0.9% of the world’s centi-millionaires having graduated from the business school, while HEC Paris is in 20th place, with 0.6% of the global centi-millionaires among its alumni. American businessman Henry Engelhardt, the founder and former CEO of Admiral Group, is one of INSEAD’s wealthy alumni.
China boasts two universities in the Top 20 globally, which have produced 1.5% of the world’s centi-millionaires between them, both in Beijing: Tsinghua University is 12th with 0.8% and Peking University, 16th with 0.7%. Tsinghua University’s notable alumni include Chinese President Xi Jinping, while co-founder of Baidu Robin Li graduated from Peking University.
Apart from the USA, the UK, France, and China, Japan is the only other country with a university in the Top 20 — the University of Tokyo in 14th place with 0.7% of the world’s centi-millionaires. Its illustrious alumni include fifteen Japanese prime ministers, eight Nobel prize winners, and five astronauts.
Data gathered by Study.eu in 2021 demonstrated that 36% of the world’s top CEOs have studied abroad, and that 66% have a masters or a doctorate. The value of international education and its impact on earning potential is clear. Examples of this — former US president Bill Clinton is one of Oxford’s most well-known graduates, the late Ghanaian diplomat Kofi Annan studied at MIT, and Lego CEO, Danish businessman Niels Christiansen is one of INSEAD’s success stories.
However, for global families, the need to consider post graduate opportunities for their children is key to fully benefiting from attending exceptional institutions. Ultimately, the possibility of becoming another centi-millionaire from one of these universities may come down to whether they are able to continue to live and work in that country.
Without residence rights or citizenship, graduates have on average 60 days before they are required to return to their home countries. While there are schemes, such as Optional Practical Training in the USA, which can give international students who have taken particular degrees the opportunity to find sponsorship with companies and gain training that may lead to full employment, this is far from guaranteed.
Competition to secure a place at top universities is intense. Harvard remains by far the most successful centi-millionaire incubator, with 1,088 such graduates in 2023. This is almost double that of its nearest competitor, Stanford, with 629. Without doubt, this contributes to its reputation and explains the demand for places and rivalry between students applying to these centers of excellence, and even more so for foreign students. The admitted class of 2027 saw 56,937 students apply for 1,966 places at Harvard, of which just 15.4% were international students.
By planning in advance, however, parents and grandparents with sufficient means can start the process of acquiring residence rights or citizenship in education hot spots for their children or grandchildren. Countries with excellent education institutions such as Australia, Canada, the UK, and the USA, to name a few offer investment migration options for wealthy, talented, and entrepreneurial parents. Once children are residents or citizens, significantly reduced school and university fees usually apply in comparison to those paid by international students. However, this can also transform a child’s future by enabling them to not only study, but subsequently to live and work in an environment where they can make an impact.
Take, for example, a South African child attending INSEAD, one of France’s top centi-millionaire incubators. As a South African citizen, after finishing their studies they would either have to return to South Africa or go through the long process of acquiring appropriate long-term work permits and visas if they were fortunate enough to be considered for employment as a foreigner. The career opportunities and earning potential in South Africa cannot compare to what Europe has to offer. But if their parents applied for the Portugal Golden Residence Permit Program in good time, they would be eligible to apply for citizenship after five years as legal residents, and the child would be able to stay in Europe and work anywhere in the European Union by the time they graduated.
Investing in your child’s education is important, but investing in a residence or citizenship by investment program that also gives them the right to live and work in a country of their choice is the smartest move you can make as it sets them up for a lifetime of opportunity and prosperity that is not limited by their country of birth.