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Better College, Better Scholars, Right?

Updated: Mar 14, 2023

Required Reading time: this article from 2017 describes a higher ed reality that intensifies every year. The upshot? Terrific, accomplished, very smart, influential teachers, mentors and scholars with stunning credentials, research and publications are employed by more colleges than you’ve ever heard of.

It’s one reason that our culture’s focus on a handful of institutions, fueled by the irrelevant US News rankings, leads to so much missed opportunity.

This scenario influenced my own pathway. I was once headed toward a PhD in Spanish literature. Once I internalized that vital elements of my future (where I would live, what kind of institution I would call home, my quality of life) were significantly out of my hands, I moved on. Some amazing friends of mine with influential books and dynamic teaching and mentoring skills teach at colleges where, frankly, I’ve never had a student apply in my 20 years of this work.

One effect of this reality is that, especially near larger cities, the SAME professor might teach on different days of the week at a highly ranked, expensive private university, a public university, and even a community college. Same person, same education, same value to the student.

Here’s my take for a thoughtful college seeker: you can still be discerning and focused on overall quality of experience, and choose colleges from a group of about 300 that can provide everything, including great faculty and resources, that you need to thrive and succeed in college and in your professional and personal life afterward. That number constitutes around 10% of 4-year colleges in the US (and many of the other 90% might be good fits, too!)… So, if it helps you or your family's thinking about college to be a little bit picky, you can work with a relatively narrow list and find diverse and high quality accessible options that will provide academic, financial and personal fit for just about anyone. That's SO much more opportunity than a magazine's "top 20" list (don't get me started!)

This is one element of being a smart consumer of higher education, disrupting the script and finding the true “hidden” gems of American education.

More on this topic from the Onion: Academic Job Market or Squid Game?

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