RateMyRankings: Ridiculous! :: Inside Higher Ed

August 28, 2008
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RateMyRankings: Ridiculous! :: Inside Higher Ed :: Higher Education’s Source for News, Views and Jobs

Once again, greed trumps truth while masquerading as a consumer service. Publishers of these news magazines perceive a large captive market with millions of ignorant parents craving some magical divining rod to help them figure out where to send Jasmine and Jason to college. These publishers completely miss the mark, patronizing the parents and students while maligning many terrific colleges and universities by claiming to measure “academic quality” through using variables that have little to do with teaching and learning.

Consider the self-supporting 19-year-old, like many of my students at Trinity in Washington, who takes classes by day and works through the night, often while supporting her siblings or children of her own. She might well change from full-time to part-time status during her collegiate years, sometimes taking a semester or two off to recover from her struggle to meet her goals, and often she finishes her degree in six or more years. There’s no ranking category for the number of young single mothers who eventually earn degrees outside of the traditional four-year patterns set by the leisure class generations ago. Neither Forbes nor U.S. News can quantify the profound importance to families and to our nation of the work of colleges and universities that serve working-class students like mine who become staunch pillars of their communities and workplaces with their hard-won education.

Now is the time for the university and colleges fair… well, end of September. And that old question comes up… which school should I send my kids to. I don’t hear the question much from people actually going to school, not as much as I should. As the article states, our reasons for choosing a school are usually an indication of our need for further education and learning… and a bit of soul searching.

Personally, I went to York U for undergrad because UofT wouldn’t accept me (with an 87% average, in pre-mark inflation 1982) because I had 3 senior English credits, and they only accepted 2 (English lit., Eng. theory, media studies, geography, chemistry & biology). York was happy to have me, and all of us who wanted to go… and then they put the thumbscrews to you and many failed: nice open doorway into a steep climb. It was close and I had no money to leave town.

That’s not much choice, but things are different now. More universities and more choices. And usually the wrong ones are made. We go where our parents went, which is fine if we were our parents and agree with ‘what was good enough for mom was good enough for me’; try following that back more than one generation. We choose the fame or size of the school; which is fine if you want to get lost or study what they’re famous for (presuming they’re still involved in what they’re famous for. I’d not go to UofToronto because of Frye and Mcluhan, because they’re not there any more. You go to UofT because of who is there now, and what they’re doing and how closely your interests match theirs. Of course, no one seems to think about that in undergrad, often.

Putting aside work and transportation realities that may force a choice on you… going to a big name university where you’re going to sit in large lecture halls and be lost in a crowd suggests to me a failure of common sense (which of course it often not common and even less sensical). Going to a smaller school where profs know your name and have time to chat with you, and even listen to what you might have to say, is priceless. In first year I was drinking beer with Ioan Davies, one of the founders of the SPT program, and later on with Roger Kuin, the great and wise sage of things Elizabethan, and finally with James Carley. And 20+ years later I’m still in touch with Roger and James regularly.

If you can’t build a social relationship with the people you’re learning from, then there’s really something you need to question about your learning choices. If you choose a school for its reputation and then a program in it that has nothing to do with that reputation, then you have to ask why you’ve started your higher learning having failed the first question, “Which school is right for me?”

I know someone who passed over a wonderful school within walking distance of home for a school that the parent went to that has a bigger name. I knew personally know and respect profs in both programs, but the smaller, closer, more amicable school would have provided the more immediate and intimate education that would full this person’s stated goals for learning, just not the one for the non-school reasons.

Students who come into Ryerson ECE pretty much know why they’re coming here. Many of the programs we offer are like that (RTA, Midwifery, Nursing, Disability Studies). Aside from practical issues of proximity and finances, which are of course most important, I just wish people put more thought into their choices of school and took the time to learn what is going to support and nurture each of their individual learning futures so that it is not just another 4 years of someone’s life, but actually represents the start on a meaningful pathway.

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