You can make The Forbes 400 ranks without a degree–15% of the list did–but the most likely path leads through these schools.
For America’s colleges, educating a future Forbes 400 member seems to be good business. These ultra-wealthy alumni come back as high-profile commencement speakers, they sit on boards of trustees—and many donate tens, or even hundreds, of millions to their alma maters. In all, we found Forbes 400 alumni at more than 150 universities worldwide. But, a small handful of schools have been more successful than others at producing billionaires. In fact, one-fourth of all Forbes 400 members attended one of just 11 schools (two schools are tied at no. 10).
No institution has more undergraduate alumni on Forbes’ latest ranking of the wealthiest Americans than the University of Pennsylvania. Famed for its Wharton School, the Philadelphia institution has 17 grads on the Forbes list, up from 14 a year ago.
“I took a lot of finance courses at Wharton,” Donald Trump has said about his education. “First they taught you all the rules and regulations. Then they taught you that those rules and regulations are really meant to be broken.”
Trump, who returns to the ranks after a one year absence, has helped bump Penn to the top. Others include D1 Capital Partners founder Daniel Sundheim and C&S Wholesale Grocers executive chairman Rick Cohen.
“For me, Penn was critical,” says Jon Gray, president and COO of private equity firm Blackstone. Gray says the liberal arts education he pursued—he graduated in 1992 with undergraduate degrees in English and finance—taught him both analytical and communication skills, preparing him well for a career in business. He was able to meet other motivated students and make lasting connections—including meeting his wife, Mindy Gray, in his senior year romantic poetry class.
“Both liberal arts and finance allowed me to meet all these incredible people and really created the springboard for the rest of my life,” Gray says. “Both Mindy and I feel this huge debt of gratitude.”
Gray and his wife have since become prolific donors to the university, surpassing $125 million in total gifts. In September, the Grays announced a $55 million donation to Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center to establish the new Basser Cancer Interception Institute, funding research to stop hereditary cancers at their earliest stages.
Harvard, meanwhile, has the second most members of The Forbes 400 among its alumni, down from first last year. Three alums dropped out of the ranks: Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, who alleged that Mark Zuckerberg got his idea for Facebook from their ConnectU, fell off the list amid the crypto winter, while Fidelity’s longtime head Edward “Ned” Johnson III died at 91 in March. The school now ties Yale for second place, with 11 alumni apiece. Altogether, 70 members of The Forbes 400—or about 18% of the list—earned their undergraduate degrees at an Ivy League college.
Stanford, last year’s third-most popular school for Forbes 400 listees, dropped to fifth this year, as alumni Jerry Yang, the Yahoo founder who spent a quarter century on the Forbes list, Robinhood cofounder Baiju Bhatt and famed Facebook venture capitalist Jim Breyer all fell off this year’s ranking. A different Golden State school, University of Southern California, holds the fourth spot.
Not that going to college is a prerequisite for landing among the wealthiest people in the nation. Some billionaires, like oil tycoon Harold Hamm and Ashley Furniture founder Ronald Wanek, never enrolled, and plenty of others never graduated.
At least 37 list members dropped out of college. Harvard, for example, has four dropouts on The Forbes 400, the most of any university—including, famously, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. New York University has three dropouts, including Twitter and Block cofounder Jack Dorsey.
Twenty of America’s richest hold only a high school diploma. And one never even finished high school: Todd Christopher, founder and CEO of haircare products company Vogue International.
Here are the schools with the most members of The Forbes 400 among their alumni:
#1: University of Pennsylvania: 17 graduates
Penn reclaimed its title of most alumni on the Forbes list this year, after placing second in 2021 and first in 2019. It’s the alma mater of the richest person in America: Elon Musk, who graduated in 1997 with physics and economics degrees.
Other Penn alumni include investor and widow of Apple cofounder Steve Jobs, Laurene Powell Jobs–who returned to Penn in 2021 to deliver a commencement address–and its most famous alumnus, Donald Trump, who earned an undergraduate business degree in 1968 (which he’s been known to flaunt) after transferring from Fordham University. Trump returns to The Forbes 400 this year, at No. 343, after falling off the list last year.
Four members of the Lauder family, heirs to the Estée Lauder fortune, are among Penn’s alumni: brothers Ronald and Leonard, Ronald’s daughter Aerin, and Leonard’s son William. Penn’s Lauder Institute of Management and International Studies and Lauder College House bear the family’s name.
#2 (tie): Harvard University: 11 graduates
Harvard slipped from the top spot last year, but it didn’t fall far. Los Angeles Clippers owner and former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is the richest Harvard grad on the list, ranked No. 8 on The Forbes 400. Nathan Blecharczyk, cofounder and chief strategy officer of Airbnb, is one of only 10 members of the 400 under 40 years old.
The founder and CEO of Citadel, Ken Griffin, ranks high on the list at No. 21. He didn’t wait until he got his degree to start investing—while at Harvard, he bought put options in the Home Shopping Network and made a few thousand when it collapsed. He also installed a satellite dish on the roof of his dorm to get real-time stock quotes.
And a few Forbes 400 members got an undergraduate degree then stuck around for grad school: oil executive George Kaiser; Blackstone executive vice chairman Hamilton “Tony” James; Pershing Square CEO Bill Ackman; and Two Sigma’s private investments chair J. Tomilson Hill all got an MBA from Harvard.
#2 (tie): Yale University: 11 graduates
Nearly half of Yale’s graduates on The Forbes 400 come from two families. The Marses, of pet food and candy giant Mars Inc., have 3 Yalies on the list: John Mars, who is company chairman, and his nieces Valerie and Victoria Mars. The oil-rich Bass family has two: brothers Robert and Sid Bass.
Stephen Schwarzman, the cofounder and CEO of The Blackstone Group, graduated Yale in 1969 and was a member of the secret student society, Skull and Bones. Liberty Media chairman John Malone and General Atomics CEO Neal Blue are among Yale’s other alumni on The Forbes 400.
#4: University of Southern California: 10 graduates
George Lucas, creator of the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises, earned his bachelor of fine arts at USC before becoming a major donor to the university. Lucas gave $175 million to USC’s cinema school, at the time the largest single donation in USC history.
Other alumni include Rick Caruso, a real estate developer who is running for mayor of Los Angeles in the 2022 election, and Salesforce co-CEO Marc Benioff, who now sits on USC’s board of trustees.
#5: Stanford University: 9 graduates
Stanford ranked second only to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on Forbes’ 2022 America’s Top Colleges ranking, which considers the number of alumni on The Forbes 400 as part of its methodology.
Stanford counts a number of tech entrepreneurs among its graduates, including Snapchat co-creators Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy, PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel and Roblox cofounder David Baszucki.
#6: Princeton University: 8 graduates
Princeton boasts four alumni in the top 40 of The Forbes 400, the most of any school. The second richest person in America, Jeff Bezos, studied electrical engineering and computer science at Princeton. It’s also the alma mater of his ex-wife MacKenzie Scott, who graduated with a degree in English.
Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and investor Carl Icahn rank No. 34 and No. 36 on the list, respectively.
#7 (tie): Columbia University: 7 graduates
Robert Kraft, CEO of the Kraft Group and owner of the New England Patriots, is Columbia’s richest alumnus, worth an estimated $10.6 billion. Rocco Commisso, CEO of Mediacom, is the namesake of Columbia’s soccer stadium; he played soccer as an undergraduate and co-captained the 1970 varsity men’s team, the first Columbia squad to compete in the NCAA men’s soccer tournament.
Also on the list are Daniel and Dirk Ziff, brothers who inherited their family’s publishing fortune. Their other brother, Robert, went to Harvard.
#7 (tie): Cornell University: 7 graduates
One of America’s richest families has deep ties to Cornell: siblings H. Fisk and S. Curtis Johnson and Helen Johnson-Leipold, heirs to the SC Johnson fortune, are all alumni. Their late father, Samuel Curtis Johnson, Jr., and grandfather, Herbert Fisk Johnson, Jr., are also Cornell grads. A $150 million donation from the family etched their name into Cornell’s business school, cementing their legacy at the university.
Cornell’s richest alumni are David Duffield, cofounder of PeopleSoft and Workday, and Robert F. Smith, founder of Vista Equity Partners.
#7 (tie): University of Michigan: 7 graduates
The lone public school in the top 10, the University of Michigan’s alumni include the sixth richest American, Google cofounder Larry Page. Page delivered the school’s commencement address in 2009 and received an honorary doctorate degree.
Also high on the list is Stephen Ross, a real estate developer who has become the single most prolific donor to the university. Michigan’s business school bears his name, following a $100 million donation in 2004. Since then, he gifted another $200 million in 2013 and $50 million more in 2017.
#10 (tie): Dartmouth College: 6 graduates
Dartmouth’s richest alumnus, investor Leon Black, has been plagued by controversy over the past few years because of his ties to Jeffrey Epstein and sexual assault allegations. Dartmouth’s arts center bears Black’s name, though Dartmouth community members have protested, asking the university to rename it.
Investors William Conway and Steven Mandel; Hyatt Hotel family fortune heir Anthony Pritzker; and co-CEO of private equity firm TPG Jim Coulter are also among Dartmouth’s ultra-wealthy alumni.
#10 (tie): New York University: 6 graduates
NYU’s business school is named for Leonard Stern, who ranks among America’s 100 richest, after a $30 million donation in 1988. Stern gave another $50 million in July 2021 to fund undergraduate scholarships. Three weeks prior, fellow Forbes 400 member William Berkley also donated $50 million to fund scholarships. Berkley serves as chairman of NYU’s Board of Trustees.
NYU’s richest graduate is Israel Englander, the founder of hedge fund firm Millennial Management.
SEE THE FULL 2022 FORBES 400 LIST
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