What has practically every story you’ve read or heard during the last couple of weeks about the college admissions scandal had in common?
The journalists and commentators have consistently used the terms elite colleges or elite universities. They have done without any critical assessment of the terms themselves, and therein lies a problem — possibly The Problem. We are in the habit of thinking about certain colleges or universities as “elite” or “better” or something that they are not. A student at one of these places is no more likely to get a good or an excellent education than a student at any state university or small liberal arts college.
My four decades of experience in academia, as well as my common sense, tells me that.
The faculty and facilities in the places we term as “elite” are no better — and sometimes much worse — than you would find at most large state universities. Many undergraduate courses in so-called elite universities are taught by graduate students — not by high-powered professors — as they are at state universities with good graduate programs.
I could go on with a long list of reasons why we should stop thinking about certain colleges as “elite” or “better.” Instead, I will stop with one point: The quality of a student’s education is, more than any other single factor, up to the student — not the place, reputation, faculty, or facilities. The quality student will receive a quality education, no matter where he or she is.
So, my modest proposal: Let’s stop thinking and saying “elite university.” Instead, let’s start using the term Big-Brand University. That’s what they are — simply products of a good, long-term marketing campaign.
Above: Miller Hall, Emory and Henry College (watercolor)
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