Our conventional thinking makes us conclude easily that links from domains with exclusive coverage make up a good set of inbound links. Since links from .edu sites (schools, colleges, universities) are likely related to any school function, it’s not that easy to penetrate this domain and ask for a link for an unrelated site. However, there are legitimate ways to obtain .edu links, albeit limited.
That’s not the case according to Google. One thread at Google Groups confirms that this belief is a myth. How could an education site be above the rest if we only look at its exclusivity (only schools can apply for these domains)? In fact, it has been an issue in the past that an online daily of a reputable university was involved in placement of spam links back in 2005. It’s by coincidence that Google’s founders had their Ph.D’s at this university!
JohnMu, a Googler says:
In general, I would like to add that no, backlinks from .EDU domains generally do not get “additional credibility from Google”
Of course, other than the legal ways to practice link building from .edu sites, there are nice links we can generate from them. We just have to make our sites relevant to what the academe will be looking at: research, surveys, case studies. Surely, when students find these pages, they can link to them from their personal pages within the site or webmasters who think they are relevant to the whole community: catering, accommodation near the campus, important landmarks used to help sell the university to prospect students.
Search Engine Roundtable has a few blog posts regarding this issue.