Choosing the Right College

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Colleges and universities across the United States prepare to assimilate the largest crop of freshmen ever. A poor economy, and a decades-long trend viewing a degree as a job-market prerequisite, will compel more than three-and-a-half million first-year students to enroll in institutions of higher learning during the 2011-2012 school year. Their retreat from an anemic economy into the expensive harbor of higher education may ultimately damage their personal economies. A freshman’s chances of accruing enormous debt are greater than his prospects for graduation or meaningful employment.

Just in time for the first day of classes, but too late for the application process, is the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s Choosing the Right College. The book is an essential guide to navigating the ever expanding labyrinth of U.S. colleges and universities. Published by ISI since 1998, the guide is as much a critique of higher education as it is of other college guides.

ISI points out that whereas the rankings of U.S. News and World Report emphasize administrator assessment of competing schools—essentially “a beauty contest”—Choosing the Right College utilizes John Henry Newman’s The Idea of a University as a benchmark to evaluate educational quality. The guide notes, “we focus most critically on how well (or badly) a school does at providing the classic ‘liberal education’ suited to a free citizen and a well-rounded adult.” This translates into ISI determining whether the school offers serious honors programs, values freedom of speech, requires a core of foundational courses, eschews politicized classrooms, and emphasizes small seminars, among other criteria. Along with subjective on-campus assessments, the book offers hard numbers on professor-student ratios, retention rates, average student debt accumulated, applicant acceptance rates, and other relevant statistics.

ISI touts ten exceptional schools. Princeton’s 6-1 faculty-student ratio, tiny average debt load of $5,225 per student, and atmosphere relatively devoid of politicization scores the New Jersey Ivy high marks. Similarly, the University of Chicago’s “defiance of the national trend toward takeout-menu distributional requirements” and demanding curriculum won praise from ISI. Pepperdine University’s “three-course core sequence, Western Civilization,” which “takes students briskly from 30,000 B.C. up through the present” and Providence College’s “expansive, six- to seven-course Development of Western Civilization program” ground students in the culture. Other schools deemed “exceptional” by ISI include the University of the South, West Point, Baylor, Texas A&M, Gordon College, and Christendom College.

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  • Watchman

    I wonder if trade school enrollment has increased in the last several years? It might be easier to be a brick layer versus a Doctor today with all the Obama "change". But, then again both professions are most likely out of work.

  • sedoanman

    Ahhhh … The age-old question: should we educate people or train them to do a job?

  • MaoYing

    Don't forget schools and colleges have their very own special brand of Affirmative-Action going. Racial preference has basically become the main factor for determining who or what they admit into their programs. On top of that, it appears colleges might be starting to throw-in special preferences for the gays now, too–

    It appears the gays are now a full-fledged minority since many special preferences are coming their way these days. I must admit they have been working diligently to overtake the blacks and the mexicans and the illegal mexicans and the arabs on the "Minority Totem Pole". So, it goes without saying the gays could someday possibly rule the entire Minority Totem-Pole of the United States. And, I think it goes without saying they will become the "Darlings of Education", as it appears that in the not too distant future, the gays will be all of the "Teacher's Pets". Imagine all the apples the teachers will soon be getting if things continue as they are now.

  • findalis

    One more thing is taken into account in every Jewish family. How great is the anti-Semitism on campus.

    For Jewish students who aren't observant it isn't that important, but for those who are observant, who wear the Kippur, who wear the Star of David, it has become very important.