A map showing the location of the Ivy League schools

Political Sociology 101: Matching Colleges with Career Aspirations

On a day to day basis most of us don’t think too much about presidential cabinets. Yet, they are important. And, they are filled with highly talented people. But how does one get to be a member of a presidential cabinet? Where do these people come from?


Perhaps being selected has something to do with one’s college alma mater. On this hunch I decided to look at Barack Obama’s and George W. Bush’s second term cabinets. Using Wikipedia (in my view, the best thing since peanut butter) I found the cabinet members and the colleges and universities they attended. This information is presented in the table below.


Now, it is likely that most people over the age of twenty four are already aware of the patterns revealed in the table data. But if you know a young person who has aspirations to be a presidential cabinet member, it might be worth his or her time to spend a couple minutes looking at this information. The data clearly reveal a relationship between cabinet membership and choice of college. To emphasize the point I have devised a short multiple choice quiz to assess the reader’s data analysis skills. So, if you are willing, please take a look at the table below and then take the quiz.


1. To improve your chances of becoming a member of a presidential cabinet, you should attend:

a. Harvard University
b. Ohio State
c. the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater

2. Assuming that you want to be a member of a presidential cabinet and you cannot go to Harvard, you should attend:

a. another Ivy League institution
b. a state land-grant institution such as Iowa State
c. your local community college

3. If you insist on attending college on the west coast of the U.S. instead of the east coast, your best bet for becoming a presidential cabinet member is to attend:

a. Stanford University
c. Cal State at Fresno

Anyone who answers “a” to all three questions is potential cabinet material. If you chose any other response for whatever reason, your chances of becoming a cabinet member are seriously diminished. You may still have an interesting life, albeit not in the higher echelons of power.

Barack Obama Cabinet 2nd Term (2013 – Present)
Member Secretary of / Office Alma Mater
John Kerry State Yale, Boston University
Joseph Jacob Lew Treasury CarletonCollege, Harvard, Georgetown
Chuck Hagel Defense U. of Nebraska
Eric Holder Attorney General Columbia University
Sally Jewell Interior University of Washington
Thomas Vilsack Agriculture Hamilton, New York, Albany Law
Penny Pritzker Commerce Harvard, Stanford University
Thomas Perez Labor Brown University, Harvard
Kathleen Sibelius HHS Trinity Washington University, Kansas
Shaun Donovan HUD Harvard
Anthony Foxx Transportation Davidson College, New York University
Ernest Moniz Energy Boston College, Stanford
Arne Duncan Education Harvard
Eric Shinseki Veterans Affairs West Point, Duke University
Janet Napolitano Homeland Security Santa Clara University, U. of Virginia
George W. Bush Cabinet 2nd Term (2005 – 2009)
Condoleezza Rice State University of Denver, Notre Dame
Henry Paulson Treasury Dartmouth College, Harvard Business School
Robert Gates Defense William and Mary, Indiana U., Georgetown U.
Alberto Gonzales Attorney General Rice University, Harvard Law School
Michael Mukasey Attorney General Columbia University, Yale University
Dirk Kempthorne Interior U. of Idaho, San Bernadino Valley College
Mike Johanns Agriculture St. Mary’s U., Creighton U. School of Law
Ed Schafer Agriculture University of North Dakota, University of Denver
Carlos Gutierrez Commerce Monterrey Institute of
Technology and Higher Education, Querétaro
Elaine Chao Labor Mount Holyoke College, Harvard
Business School, M.I.T., Dartmouth College, Columbia University
Mike Leavitt HHS Southern Utah University
Alphonso Jackson HUD Truman State University, Washington University School of Law
Steve Preston HUD. Northwestern University, U. of
Chicago Graduate School of Business
Mary Peters Transportation University of Phoenix
Samuel Bodman Energy Cornell University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Margaret Spellings Education University of Houston
Jim Nicholson Veterans Affairs U.S. Military Academy, Columbia University
James Peake Veterans Affairs U.S. Military Academy, Cornell
Michael Chertoff Homeland Security Harvard University

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