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Picking the Best College

by PHS Staff
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #83, 2008.

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Is it really worth going deep into debt to attend a “name” school? Is your life over if you start your higher education in community college or your state university? We chop through the hype.

What are the “best” colleges? Most of us have a general idea. It’s the Ivies and the “Seven Sisters” (the seven historically women-only colleges where Ivy students used to troll for future wives). Plus some top engineering schools, such as MIT and Caltech, and some top liberal arts colleges, such as Pomona and Washington and Lee. Oh, let’s also throw in the U.S. military academies, and a handful of conservative or Christian colleges, such as Hillsdale and Wheaton. To that add some well-known state schools, such as UCLA and University of Virginia. To find out exactly where each school ranks, all we need is to grab the latest copy of U.S. News & World Report’s America’s Best Colleges. We’re done, right?

“Wait a minute!” the more savvy reader might say. “There are other ways to pick the best colleges, such as the guides Mary Pride reviewed on page 39 of this issue! There you can find which schools are most devoted to drunkenness or academics, which are hardest to get into, and lots of other useful information!”

Well, perhaps.

Or perhaps the entire way colleges are ranked needs to be rethought.

Let’s take U.S. News & World Report’s America’s Best Colleges guide, for example. According to a Forbes magazine article on “How to Choose a College,” in terms of sales it wipes the floor with its competition:

U.S. News’ product is way out in front in visibility; in addition to its usual circulation of 2 million, it sells 9,000 newsstand copies and some 20,000 of its college guide book.

America’s Best Colleges might be popular with the public, but not with the presidents of many top private and liberal arts colleges. In June of this year, a large group of them met in Annapolis to consider jointly refusing to fill out the “reputation survey” on which U.S. News’ rankings are based in part, and to plan ways to provide information of similar quality on their own.

The Annapolis Group’s new rankings (or whatever) are yet to be seen. But here’s yet another way to rank colleges, based on what they produce rather than who they enroll. It comes from the serendipitously named Center for College Affordability and Productivity.

The head of the CCAP, Dr. Richard Vedder, wrote that Forbes article I mentioned earlier. Everyone interested in “best” colleges should click here to read the article. In it, Dr. Vedder explains how his rankings include what students actually think of each school (using one of my favorite sites, RateMyProfessors.com). They also include how many students won prestigious awards and how grads are doing according to Who’s Who in America.

The article contains charts for National Universities, National Public Universities, and Liberal Arts Schools, with both their CCAP rank and their U.S. News rank. Take the time to print them out. You may be surprised!

And here’s another twist:

It matters more to end up with “the best” than to start with “the best.”

To make this clear, which is better: an undergraduate degree from an Ivy school, followed by a grad degree from a low-ranked school, or
vice versa?

Think about it.

You could spend your first two years in college at community college (practically free). You could then transfer to a nearby state school with an Honors program (still practically free, especially since Honors programs typically grant scholarships). Get good grades and apply to prestigious graduate schools. This is where you can actually be taught by and do research with famous faculty.

If you’re not able to earn a 3.5 or better GPA at community college, you can still transfer to state school with as little as a 2.5 GPA. If you pick up your pace here, you might still be able to get into a good grad school.

And if grad school or professional school aren’t in your future, what probably matters most is the effectiveness of your college’s careers center.

In the end, the “best” college for you is the one where you can do well, learn what you need to know, and graduate as debt-free as possible, without having your morals and worldview scrambled along the way. It’s not mainly about the name; it’s about the education.

Breaking News: University of California rejects Christian texts

Since August 2005, we’ve been keeping our eyes on a shocking development in the University of California system. That was when we became aware of a complaint filed by the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI), Calvary Chapel Christian School, and a number of parents of rising seniors on behalf of their minor children. The complaint alleged “viewpoint discrimination by defendants toward Christian school instruction and texts.”

Reading the complaint, the facts were compelling. Basically, these Calvary Christian school seniors were being denied admission to schools in the University of California system, solely because “some courses at Calvary Christian School are disqualified from approval . . . because of the Christian viewpoint added to standard subject matter presentation in those courses and their texts.”

Note the word “added.” The state was NOT claiming required subject matter was not covered. The texts in question included everything required in state standards, plus Christian commentary and Bible verses pertinent to some issues.

The case has finally made it to federal district court. On July 18, a WorldNetDaily story summarized the issue as follows: “Whether a state university system can dictate that private Christian schools in the state teach their college prep courses from exclusively secular, Bible- and God-free textbooks.”

UC officials specifically declared A Beka and BJUP textbooks “insufficient,” just because state-required content was supplemented with Christian material.

However, courses from other schools and publishers such as “Western Civilization: The Jewish Experience,” “Issues in African History,” “Feminine Roles in Literature,” “Gender, Sexuality, and Identity in Literature,” “Intro to Buddhism,” “Introduction to Jewish Thought,” and “Raza Studies” were all deemed OK by UC officials. In other words, UC appears to think it’s OK to add viewpoints to your curriculum-just as long as the viewpoint in question is not biblical Christianity.

Since this became official UC policy last year, and since there are only two ways to get accepted into UC schools (score in the top 2-3 percent on a standardized test or complete a UC-approved core curriculum in high school), the message couldn’t be clearer:

“Christian school students and Christian homeschoolers, stay away-unless you are willing to chop the Bible and Christianity totally out of your high-school curriculum.”

Freedom of religion. Freedom of speech. Equal protection under the law. So many rights are being violated here.

This all started, according to court documents, when U of C began “expanding the reach and impact of requirements for students in nonpublic secondary schools to be eligible for admission to the University of California. . . . Methodically and ominously, [UC officials] have assumed increasingly more authority over secondary schools in California. . . . Even without authority for and guidance in doing so, [UC officials] press onward from deciding admission guidelines to determining what viewpoints may and may not be taught in secondary school classrooms, which books may and may not be used, and what students with the same tests scores are and are not eligible for admission to the University of California.”

Those of us old enough to remember the Iron Curtain may recall that communist nations routinely prevented Christian students from attending college. Now California is following in Stalin’s infamous footsteps. Three cheers for liberal tolerance.

The moral here is that we homeschoolers need to keep our eyes not only on what is happening in K-12 education in our state, but on what our state college officials are up to. As for me, I’m off to purchase a few more BJU textbooks. If they bother UC, they must be doing something right!

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