What has made our universities so distinguished is not the quality of our undergraduate education. Other systems of higher learning, including our own liberal arts colleges, compete well against our great universities in transmitting knowledge to undergraduates. At its best, undergraduate education in the United States is exceptionally good, and at its worst it is very poor, but this is simply not what distinguishes our great universities from lesser ones. Nor is it our training of professional graduate students that makes our universities the greatest in the world, although we do that very well in comparison with many other nations. In short, although the transmission of knowledge is a core mission of our universities, it is not what makes them the best institutions of higher learning in the world.
We are the greatest because our universities are able to produce a very high proportion of the most important fundamental knowledge and practical research discoveries in the world.