A new provost at Stanford, coming from her position as a VP of City College of New York, called CCNY the “Harvard of the Proletariat.” I think amongst lists of the elite colleges in the world, CCNY is by now, often forgotten. It was the first to offer free admission to all qualified (though philosophically I am opposed to this policy) but as a result, educated the children of New York’s many talented but poor (many immigrants/Jews) who were excluded from the Ivy Leagues, giving them their first step into the middle classes.
In the process, they educated nine Nobel Prize winners (more than any other US public school) including Ken Arrow (one of the fathers of modern economics) to last year’s Nobel Prize winner in Economics, Robert Aumann, as well as luminaries from Thorstein Veblen to Richard Schiff (who played Tobey on West Wing, the character also was a CCNY alum), to Andy Grove of Intel to both my parents (my father teaches there now).
The Economist magazine attributes much of its recent decline to its policy of open admissions which came out of the civil rights movement of the 60’s and forced City College to admit pretty much anyone who wanted to attend. This led to a long period of academic decline, until the policy was ended under recent reforms in 90’s, as CCNY strives to regain some of its old prominence.
(Perhaps with the help of talented new faculty hires like my cousin who, though not at CCNY, teaches at Brooklyn College, one its sister schools in the CUNY system.)