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'Value' in higher education

An article I wrote for Monday's paper posits St. Mary's College of Maryland as one of the great values in higher education.

Lists of "top values" in academia are wildly popular, perhaps second only to rankings of colleges in overall quality.

"Value" is a loaded word. Surely, it doesn't simply mean "cheap." If it did, the top values in our Washington region would all be two-year community colleges and those four-year public colleges that charge the least tuition. Some of the annual lists of "top values" include private colleges that charge two or three times as much as public institutions.

Maryland and Virginia colleges fare comparatively well on these lists, particularly the public schools, underscoring the wide variety of high-caliber state colleges in both states.

You might assume that everyone reads these lists from top to bottom. But perhaps not. In conversations with a few fellow parents over the weekend, it became clear to me that St. Mary's College remains something of a secret even in Montgomery County, a place where one adult in 20 holds a doctorate. I would bet that St. Mary's counterpart in Virginia, the public liberal arts college University of Mary Washington, may not yet be known to every parent in the commonwealth.

Let's see how the publications themselves define the term, and how our local schools stack up in the two best-known lists.

Princeton Review and USA Today

This Best Value Colleges list attempts to find the public and private colleges offering "high-quality academics at a reasonable price," and considers "more than 30 factors in three areas: academics, costs and financial aid."

Two colleges in the Washington region make the Top 10 list among public universities:
1. University of Virginia
8. Virginia Tech

Also on the list: St. Mary's College, Salisbury University and the United States Naval Academy in Maryland; William and Mary, James Madison University and the University of Mary Washington in Virginia.


On the private side, two Virginia schools are represented -- the University of Richmond and Sweet Briar College -- but neither cracks the Top 10.

Kiplinger

This publication sorts 100 Best Values each in private and public higher education, twice as many as the USA Today and Princeton Review. In search of best quality and price point, the editors start by homing in on 120 schools purely based on academic quality. Only then do they factor in cost and financial aid.

On the private side, the rankings are split into national universities and liberal arts schools. In the first group, the University of Richmond is the top-ranked school in the Washington area, ranked 14th; Johns Hopkins ranks 20th, Georgetown 26th. Among liberal arts schools, Washington and Lee University is the sole local representative, ranked 7th.

Among public universities, we have U-Va. and College of William and Mary ranked 3 and 4, University of Maryland at 8 and Virginia Tech at 16. Also: James Madison University (21), St. Mary's (37), University of Mary Washington (38), Salisbury University (59), George Mason University (64), UMBC (93) and Towson University (97).

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By Daniel de Vise  |  June 1, 2010; 10:04 AM ET
Categories:  Access , Admissions , Aid , Finance , Liberal Arts , Privates , Publics , Rankings  | Tags: best value colleges, st. mary's college maryland, top values higher education  
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Comments

I am the acting president at the University of Mary Washington and want to comment on the statement about how widely known we are within the Commonwealth of Virginia. I believe we are in the exact same position as St. Mary's College in that once you get outside of a forty-five mile radius of Fredericksburg, we are not well known or well understood. We still get questions like, "do you still only accept women?" or "are you a private institution". It is high on my agenda to work on this issue through an initiative I have titled "regional engagement".

Posted by: rhurley1 | June 3, 2010 11:30 AM | Report abuse

We visited all the big name schools when our child was applying for college. Acceptances came in quickly from the likes of: Duke, Georgetown and many others such as William and Mary (where everyone looked unhappy, pale, tired, and had a huge cup of Starbucks all the time).

One visit to St. Mary's College of Maryland made it clear that it was the superior, not the equal, to the Gemstone program at College Park. Professors, not teaching assistants, sought out prospective students and immediately went on a first name basis. No freshman class that was sat in on, including the most popular ones and majors, had more than 18 students. Students themselves came up to us and offered tours and "to honestly answer all your questions."

SMCM is a goldmine. There are no English as a second language teaching assistants who teach 1st and 2nd year classes of 100 plus students, if you can understand them, such as at College Park. Every student is an Honors Student, befitting it being the State's Honors College. There's tons for the kids to do as well but little to get in trouble for doing, like in College Park.

We left St. Mary's after one visit with our child committed to going there, despite all the other acceptances, etc. Talk about hidden gems that are everything you want and St. Mary's College of Maryland tops the list from every visit to 12 top colleges we went to visit.

Now, heading into year three, our child is on a first name basis with every teacher. Each one responds to email for clarification on anything outside of class. They are always available for consultations. These teachers care and it shows.

College Park and it's Gemstone Program could learn a great deal from observing the real Honor's Program and College in Maryland. SMCM is everything and then some that has been written about it.

Posted by: tcmits | June 5, 2010 5:51 PM | Report abuse

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