Thursday, August 28, 2008

College Rankings

This afternoon, I read an article about college rankings, in which McGuire questions the validity of college rankings, sums up many (if not most) of my issues I have with the system. How, exactly, would I have received a better education at (for example) Harvard than at Stony Brook University? Is it because Harvard is more expensive? I always felt (very slightly) miffed that someone might think I didn't get a good education because I went to a state school. (I'd oddly loyal that way.) I also never really grokked that notion of the "right college fit" until I went to SBU.

I was thinking of a few things when I was looking at grad schools. To the extent of my knowledge, not one Ivy League university has the program in which I am interested. Does that mean that I'm getting a sub par education? I hope not. When I talked to people during my search, I was asked (often enough) whether I would stay at SBU, and my reasons for choosing not to even apply. Many students seem to stay at the same university for graduate studies; for example, I've known quite a few students both at SBU and at LIU who did both undergrad and grad degrees at the same school, within the same department. I think this is a mistake. (This obviously is a personal decision. I think it tends to be a mistake because if a student stays at the same university for both undergraduate and graduate degrees, often they are learning the same material. SBU, for example, did not have different concentrations at different levels; one chose one of or several of the literature concentrations that are ensconced in the English department. I thought the professors at SBU very good, but I think one of the benefits of going to another university is to become exposed to different teaching styles and different course offerings. Go learn what professors at different institutions have to say about American Lit; go learn about different research that's being done in British Lit; etc.)

The students I know who stay at the same school, both at SBU and at LIU, are all bright students and do well, in some cases better than I. (For the record, I graduated with a 2.93 overall G.P.A. at SBU, while within my major my G.P.A. was about a 3.23. My G.P.A. at LIU at the moment is hovering just above 3.835.) Their undergraduate G.P.A.s are often higher than mine, but I'm often doing better in grad school. SBU is, I think, probably a better school than LIU (which is not to say LIU is bad; apparently in pharmacy we're in the Top 10). Who's the better student, the one who got a higher G.P.A., or the one who went to a higher-ranked (for that department) university? Who would you hire?

I also realize that I don't know if any of my non-teacher friends are in careers in which their G.P.A.s are outright questioned, which is perhaps why I'm so uptight about maintaining mine. (This is not that my grad school cronies aren't, concerned but I suspect fewer of them have careers riding on it).

When I was in high school, Mom and I briefly took Arabic lessons. It was an interesting experience. The teacher wasn't too good, really, but he tried hard and he was nice (and I learned how to count like nobody's business, must better than anyone else in the class, I must say). One of the other students (who later showed up teaching at LCCC, which is where I got my two-year degree right after high school) told me she thought I'd do really well at a SUNY school, and even found me some information; I, of course, wasn't too keen on the idea (too far from home; I wasn't ready for college even though I knew it, but I couldn't have verbalized it). I don't know or remember why she said that, and I wish I had a way of asking her, and telling her she was right.

I suppose one of the reasons I'm into teaching is because I like talking to students about their future life. I wish parents knew that if their kid doesn't go to college right away, the kid's life isn't going to fall to pieces. And that's true if the kid doesn't go to college period, or goes to a "lesser college" because there are so many factors that go into "the right school." And I get uppity when someone - even a magazine - tries to tell me that Harvard or any other Ivy League university is better than any other university based on random criteria.

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