Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Colleges: The New Debt Factories

This afternoon I was on the road when I flipped on the radio and heard the following:
"... has a reputation for doing things differently. Most classes are small seminars like this one. There are no majors. Students do a lot of independent projects. And grades aren’t as important as the long written evaluations professors give every student at the end of every semester. It’s no surprise, then, that professor James Horowitz is skeptical of any uniform college rating system, like the one being proposed by the Obama administration."
James Horowitz, I wondered. I don't remember him. But sweet - NPR's Marketplace program is showcasing, for whatever reason, the strengths of my old college, The Evergreen State College. I graduated from there in 2009 with a four-year degree. It is one of the last strongholds for affordable education in the nation.

I turned up the volume but my elation dissolved. Sarah Lawrence was the subject of this report, not my beloved Evergreen. But you could easily have been mistaken, as I was, because Evergreen and Sarah Lawrence are pedagogical twin flames. But what symmetries they share in pedagogy, they lack in cost.

An elite institution, Sarah Lawrence is ranked by The Chronicle of Higher Education as the most expensive college in the country, costing a stiff $63,200 per year (That's more than median US household income!). In contrast, Evergreen, costs a tenth of that. 

Nothing ignites a burning rage in me quite like the misconceptions folks boldly cling to when it comes to Evergreen, a place following the same basic educational programming and principles as one of the most expensive colleges in the country.

Wikipedia writes that Sarah Lawarance is "known for its rigorous academic standards, low student-to-faculty ratio, and highly individualized course of study." It is clear that both schools value "the ability to write and communicate effectively, to think analytically, and to accept and act on critique." They place high value on the ability to think - creatively, innovatively and critically. Basic requirements for 21st century living.

American society, it seems, respects money and the institutional prestige it buys more than the radical notion that an education should be affordable, and that opportunity should not be tied to debt. Education is a human right. And the one place getting that right right is Evergreen. Which I am incredibly proud of, and indebted to, metaphorically speaking of course.

Recently I received my Evergreen transcript and it was over 60 pages long - including not just teacher evaluations, but self evaluations and a summative evaluation reflecting on the entirety of my academic experience at Evergreen.

In contrast, my transcript from Green River Community College, a traditional two-year college, was only one page long, stamped with a single stingy numeric at the bottom of the page. 3.9 was supposed to sum up my academic performance.

You tell me which is of greater value. The old way or new way? And whatever way you choose, should you have to sacrifice an arm and a leg to get it (especially when that's not necessary)?

The Semimar II building on the Evergreen campus. A building I miss.

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