From chronicle.com, on "Are Elite Colleges Worth It?," by Pamela Haag (The Chronicle Review, November 4):
Disturbing. Sad to think that in the United States, a football league formed in the 1950s denotes "elite" status. What about Colgate, Boston College, William & Mary, or better yet, the naval and military academies? Where are the academic powerhouses in applied fields? If you want to study geology, try the University of Oklahoma for elite status. Civil engineering? I wouldn't place an Ivy in the top 50 for that field. All this article proves is that small world views generate even smaller world views.
The author makes good points, but the question of "worth" should also be examined from the perspective of the taxpayer. My figures are a few years old, so the amount is higher now, but taxpayers subsidize elite colleges in excess of $40,000 per student per year. On balance, this is probably a good investment, but these considerations seldom show up in the debate.
I found this essay an unusually perceptive take on well-trodden ground. I will share it with my daughter and her best friends from high school, both graduates of Baltimore City College, who are now at Pomona and Swarthmore, respectively.
The tradition of magnet public high schools in Baltimore is tattered but still going strong. Maybe there is one thing Haag left out of her article—the value of attending an urban, economically diverse, public high school. So many families today aspire to wrapping their children in an elite cocoon—fancy private school followed by fancy private college. I don't think that can be good for the students themselves, and it's certainly not good for the nation.
I'm doubtful that the elite-college mystique is "about minds more than paychecks." I think a lot of it is about status. In my AP English class senior year, virtually every student was planning to attend an Ivy League college. And yet, although the class was very challenging and intellectually stimulating, the teacher was so disgusted by the lack of interest and effort on the part of the students that she swore she'd never teach second-semester seniors again, and she didn't. Me? I chose Swarthmore, because my preppy town hadn't sent anyone there in 12 years, and that sounded good to me.