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15 colleges worth the price

Guest Blogger

College can be scary enough but does it have to be a financial horror too? Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus take you on a tour of what’s horrible about today’s colleges in their new book, “Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids – and What We Can Do About It,” published in August by Times Books. Hacker, a professor at Queens College, and Dreifus, who teaches at Columbia University, outline how colleges lost track of their primary mission: teaching college students. Instead, many professors negotiate to teach as little as possible, while the colleges lure students with expensive sports facilities, dorms and dining choices, pushing a four-year education at a private school to a quarter million dollars. So how do you choose a college that’s worth the price? Hacker and Dreifus have weeded down the field to 15 institutions they like.

By Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus

Arizona State University. How can ASU possibly be on our list? It’s huge: 53,902 undergraduates at last count. Yet its growth makes it an exciting place to be. Outmoded departments are shuttered; new programs can start without bureaucratic hurdles. It has two engineering schools: one for math whizzes, another for Thomas-Edison tinkerers.

University of Mississippi. Yes, it took federal troops to integrate Ole Miss. And now it’s a multi-racial campus, which we especially liked for putting undergraduates first. Among its well-kept secrets is an internal “honors college,” with small classes and a cadre of dedicated professors. An Amherst education at state school prices.

Linfield College. Located in Oregon’s wine country, it’s one of about 200 schools we call GSLAC’S. (“Good Small Liberal Arts Colleges.”) We like that it offers a fine education on an unassuming budget. Linfield spends an annual $26,834 per student, versus Swarthmore’s $66,785. Yet we found that its faculty is just as good and its students just as inquiring.

Notre Dame. Forget the football team, which is not the powerhouse it once was. Notre Dame puts principles first. Like inviting an Islamic scholar, whose visit the Bush administration banned. Or hosting Barack Obama, whose views on reproductive rights are well-known. And its president, Rev. John Jenkins, puts in an 80-hour week for a salary of $000,000. (No typo.)

Raritan Valley. This is a two-year college in New Jersey, whose signature feature is a mall-sized parking lot. But it’s not all computer repairs and real estate sales. Raritan also offers freshman and sophomore liberal arts courses, with small classes and an experienced faculty, better than the mega-lectures at flagship schools. Its graduates readily move on as transfer students.

Cooper Union. This New York school’s $600 million endowment is hardly the nation’s largest. It’s what it does with its income that’s different. No fancy amenities or perks for professors. Instead, none of its students have to pay a penny in tuition. This says to us that at Cooper, education comes first.

University of Maryland, Baltimore County. This suburban campus is just about unique in combining science and engineering research with stimulating teaching. Professors encourage undergraduates to join in laboratory projects. Its president, Freeman Hrabowski, greets almost every student by name. That, some told us, is why they came.

Western Oregon University. Western Oregon, in the one traffic-light town of Monmouth, can value teaching over research, since it has no pretensions of reaching a higher tier. We found the students as bright as any we’ve met, and their professors bring out their best.

Evergreen State College. While Evergreen isn’t for everyone, it comes close to being a model college. Students work hard; but not for grades, since none are given. Classes are small: usually two faculty members in tandem with 25 students. No departments either: courses confront topics that spread across several fields. A lot are transfer students, disillusioned with the brand name schools where they started.

Haverford, Emory, Brandeis, Marquette, Hofstra University, and Florida Gulf Coast University. What they have in common: all have abandoned football, or never played it. At least 95 percent of college teams lose money, usually a lot, while the few that turn a profit can corrupt a campus. The schools we’ve cited feel their job is education, not providing entertainment.

By Steven E. Levingston  |  September 7, 2010; 5:30 AM ET
Categories:  Guest Blogger  | Tags: choosing a college; failures of colleges;  
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It's sad because I used to be interested in what Hacker and Dreifus had to say. I thought their criticisms were useful. And I suppose I still do. But when they put out a list like this, which includes at least four schools I'd actually pay to PREVENT my children from attending, I'm wondering what they're smoking. ASU makes this list because they dump "outmoded" departments? Really? So that cancels out the 600 students in a lecture hall, I guess. The UMBC president knows the kids by name? Okay? That's sweet, but what does some savant's ability to remember names have to do with getting a good education? Do you really think Haverford would cease to be worth it if it added a division III football team? I get the criticisms they've leveled at the way schools waste money, and more power to them. But this list makes them look like clowns. They've gone from being hard-nosed analysts to sounding like some 16-year-old justifying why their favorite bands rock and yours suck! As idiosyncratic as it gets. They should have quit while they were ahead.

Posted by: CRPren | September 7, 2010 7:31 PM | Report abuse

This article is incomplete without mentioning the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Especially with a line like this:

"An Amherst education at state school prices."

UMass Amherst has an agreement with Amherst College where students of either institution can take classes at the other free of charge. The consortium also includes Smith College, Hampshire College and Mt. Holyoke College.

Yes, you can literally get an Amherst education at state school prices at UMass Amherst.

Posted by: trito43 | September 8, 2010 12:12 AM | Report abuse

ASU? ASU? You got to be kidding. Half of the students are part-time students that take one or two courses per semester and take years, if ever, to get a degree. Yes, the current Wall Street-type president hocked the assets of the university to bring in high-prized people to compensate for his high salary and perks worth over $600,000 per year and to sell his so-called "New American University." Nobody could ever tell what that was, and I think even he has stopped spouting that ridiculous title. One thing I will stay is that he is very good at selling...and I mean selling.

Posted by: ZnanaB | September 8, 2010 1:49 AM | Report abuse

The only schools worth their weight are Notre Dame, Marquette, and Emory. Three out of fifteen...........shoddy list.

Posted by: Ireland2 | September 9, 2010 10:29 PM | Report abuse

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