Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Yes, it matters where you go to college

While the debate over whether or not it matters where you go to college rages on, I can’t help but participate. I love a good ole case of nature versus nurture – and whether it’s outside forces or innate features that determine one’s fate.

Let me begin by stating that there are valid points from both sides of the argument. There’s the community college drop out now making mils, and there’s the Ivy League athlete straight out of Brooklyn now earning straight A’s thanks to a decent education. There’s always that one instance that defies popular belief.

But as an alumna of a private college, and a current graduate student and teaching fellow at a public university, I’d have to say, yes, it matters where you go to college. Comparing my undergraduate experience to that of my students, as I do on a regular basis, I stand by the fact that at a highly regarded institute, you get what you pay for in terms of reputation, education, and opportunity.

I absolutely agree that like life in general, much of education is what you make of it, and what chances you chose to – and not to – pursue. If your sole concern is getting a good job, and you’ll work your little butt off regardless of where you go to college, then it may not really matter.

But I also believe that the typical young adult – who tends to be more easily influenced – is going to need a little shove every once and a while. And what you make of your education is largely decided by your environment – and all of the support, distractions, and opportunities that come with that territory. If you’re choosing your college based on the ability of its staff and overall atmosphere to push you a little bit further, to challenge you to step out of your comfort zone and be better, then it may definitely matter.

Allow me to show you where I’m coming from. I received my BA from Assumption College in Worcester, MA. In the 2010 U.S. News ratings for universities in the northern region, Assumption College was ranked 36. The 4-year graduation rate at Assumption is 64 percent, its student-faculty ratio is 12 to 1, and 47.5 percent of its classes have fewer than 20 students.

On the other hand, I’m currently a Master’s candidate and a teaching fellow at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. UMass Dartmouth, ranked 81, has a 4-year graduation rate of 32 percent, a student-faculty ratio of 18 to 1, and 31.7 percent of its classes have fewer than 20 students.

Those statistics, though, don’t really give the difference between these two institutions justice. A student-faculty ratio of 12 to 1 versus 18 to 1 doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. But let me remind you that I’m a teaching fellow at UMD, with my own 200-level class, and my own 75 students each academic year.

Yes, I receive a lot of support and guidance from my supervisor and comrades who take our position very seriously – but none-the-less, I’m the instructor. Students had paid tuition to take my course before I had even begun my first day of graduate school. And quite frankly, looking back at my first semester on the job, they probably got jipped.

The only different between my senior students and I was that they were a few months away from the degree I already had – except from a better institution. Even still, at the end of my first semester, I received an evaluation that said, “She cared more than any real professor I’ve ever had during my 3 years at UMass.”

So what that tells me is that 12 to 1 versus 18 to 1 is a very big difference, especially since you could argue that some of those 1’s to the 18’s aren’t even qualified – And that, I believe, makes all the difference in the world.

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