Waaay off topic: State Universities

I heard something that annoyed the crap out of me a few days ago and occasionally the memory of it, and how I felt afterwards comes to the surface of the present and raises my blood pressure. Before I go into rant mode let me throw in the disclaimer. I mean no ill will to those who went to small- midsized private schools, or large ivies. Some of my dearest friends are Harvard alumni.
–Start Rant—
I was listening to a NPR report on class in America the focus was Amherst College and the class divisions at the school. Amherst is trying to provide itself and the opportunities it provides to non-wealthy students. That’s an admirable thing. However there was a part that came that I took to insinuate that schools like Amherst had a monopoly on those opportunities like foreign trips, mentoring and honors programs. Huh? I went to the Univ of Florida and one summer spent a semester in Cambridge Univ (UK), with the help of a scholarship and some loan money. My cousin goes to some flat state university in the middle of the country and went to South Africa for a semester. My college at Univ Maryland offers mentoring, however few students ever seem to take us up on our offers.
Many state universities are great value for money, provide a solid education and offer excellent opportunities. Yeah, there are some state schools that are crappy, but I’m not talking about those. There are state schools that are beyond excellent, like UVa & UNC, and sometimes it is not the school but particular programs. More importantly, the student has to take advantage of what’s there. You don’t do the internships, you don’t get involved in certain groups, you don’t sign up for that extra circular program, it can pretty much be a waste no matter how much you or your parents spend.
Also 5 years after graduating, most people don’t give a rat’s rear where you went to school. Of course, Univ of Wisconsin- Madison people seem to be all over the damned place. I have no idea where my supervisor went, or my boss, or many of my co-workers (a small percentage did attend UMCP). You typically find these things out when their team makes it to some bowl or is heading towards the final four, or they keep showing up wearing UGA sweatshirts and hats.
So three cheers for those publicly funded schools whose mission is to provide a post secondary education to its qualified citizens.

7 thoughts on “Waaay off topic: State Universities”

  1. I went to a private university in the south that had (in my opinion) pretty broad/deep access to foreign programs, mentoring, unique internships, etc. Since graduating I have discovered that what my school offered was nothing compared to the opportunities offered to friends of mine from more prestigious institutions (Williams, Harvard, Amherst, Dartmouth, Princeton)…fully funded undergraduate research in Antarctica…three weeks in Germany at a Volkswagen plant…on the whole I suspect the best public institutions (Michigan, Berkeley, Carolina) can offer comparable opportunities to only a portion of the student body. The rest must be sought out by proactive students (which I suspect was your case at Florida).

  2. Things come to those who get up and get after them.

    The opportunities you mentioned, were they required, heavily pushed and promoted, granted to all students, etc? Yes, some opportunies are only offered to a portion, because not everything is for everyone. The portion of kids interested in Tudor England go on the Cambridge trip. The portion of kids interested in ecological whatever, spend their summer collecting water samples and swating mostiquoes in the Everglades or some other Florida wetland. The J-School kids make an annoyance of themselves at the school run PBS & NPR stations and get pimped to the local paper.
    I don’t doubt that Yale and other like schools provide some really cool opportunities, as they would at least need to, to justify themselves over all others.
    I guess it really boils down to the individual, his/her goals, needs and what s/he can do. Large state schools served me well. They added to the foundation that allowed me to pursue the kind of work I like.

  3. Right on, Mari. The major competitive advantage of going to Harvard, Yale, or Princeton (add Stanford, for the left coast) is not the relative quality of the education, but the value of the connections you can make. Once you’re out of that rarified rank, the bang for the buck drops off fast. I’ve never understood why parents would pay Harvard prices for some run-of-the-mill private school, when public universities offer much superior educational opportunities at a reasonable price. Yes, the student might have to make a little effort, but so what? As a Virginia resident (at the time), my son had a choice between UVa and William & Mary (he picked the latter), and he spend almost a year at the Univ. of Sao Paulo in Brazil. All at in-state prices. It was one of the happiest days of my life when he decided not to go to Swarthmore.
    I just read that tuition plus room & board at GWU now tops 50K/year–highest in the country. Why would anyone pay that for a lower middle-rank school like GW?

  4. A certain Ivy League school requires a thesis as part of an undergraduate degree. While there a number of other institutions that do this sort of thing, here’s the difference: the -good- academic advisers there push students toward unique subjects…things that have not already been written about. So instead of “fish populations in the Northern Atlantic” the student would encouraged to research “class changes in Scandinavia and their impact on Northern Atlantic fisheries”. In my opinion it would be difficult to spend two years researching/writing on this subject without stepping outside the library. But I think DaddyFive hit it on the nose when he talked about connections. In this regard, the biggest difference I have observed is how well the university facilitates establishing and maintaining these connections after graduation. For example, Harvard has a section of their alumni organization dedicated to alums donating small sums of venture capital to other alums trying to advance an idea. To the credit of GW, the tuition of students isn’t allowed to rise over the four years the student is enrolled. I’ve seen private colleges raise tuition ~$1500/semester, if not more…

  5. GW needs the money so it can take over Foggy Bottom, brick by brick, block by block. Buwahhahahaha!

    Did you know that Sergi Brin, co-founder of Google is a UMCP (undergrad) alum? So is Kevin Plank the founder of Under Armour. As was Jim Henson and Carl Berstein. But they have nothing to do with this discussion, I just felt like tooting.

    Connections are like a feature on an electronic gadget. It is a great purchase if you use it to its fullest.

    In the end what is the goal and does the goal even matter?

  6. this is one of my favorite topics and I have put my “10 School Rule” out there before but similar to what DaddyFive0h said. There are about 10 schools in the country where it matters that you went to that school. Go to Harvard or one of the other ones and even if you get C’s there your degree still says Harvard, job well done your in the club. Go anywhere else and it is pretty much what you make of it.

  7. Someone once told me that universities are like hotels: at a cheap one you’re still probably able to get just as good night’s sleep as in the expensive one.

    I went on forestry management tours in Germany, and ecology tours in Costa Rica as part of a minor UW system school’s opportunity (UW-Stevens Point) and at Maryland we have a fine honors program and better opportunities as anywhere else. But I think I’m preaching to the choir for this rant.

    The only people who feel having gone to an ivy league school is important are those who paid for an ivy league school.

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