Thursday, September 10, 2009

Ahead To College

The latest college guide from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI), Choosing the Right College 2010-2011, is out and happily in my hands.

This guide is biased. It has an agenda. It's not exhaustive and it gives a highly subjective rating to the colleges and universities it does review. What a relief! With this guide it is possible to evaluate American colleges against a specific set of guiding principles as opposed to the 'objective' rankings of, say, a U.S. News and World Report. It is the most reliable and informative of the guides I've used in our family's two previous college searches, and I'm glad to have this most recent up-dated edition in time for our family's third college go-round.

The guide takes 80 selective institutions of higher learning (as defined by U.S. News & World Report), adds in a few more and then evaluates each school according to, first of all, the school's adherence to a prescribed and required core curriculum that embraces the canon of Western civilization. There is a discussion of academic instruction with a nod to those departments in which a school is strongest, a look at popular majors as well as a list of professors who excel as teachers and deliver instruction without politicizing their subject. In addition to the fairly in-depth discussion of academic life, the guide discusses student life--dorm living, sports, student clubs, the political atmosphere on campus, a student’s ability to speak out freely on campus and in the classroom, and the student's comfort level on campus regardless of political or religious identity. Statistics such as enrollment, test scores, tuition and retention rate are summarized for each institution, and, finally, each school is given a red, green or yellow light which is intended to indicate the 'state of civic liberty' at each school.

I was glad to see that two family favorites, Catholic University of America and the United States Military Academy received the green. I was not at all surprised that my alma mater, Barnard College, received a red. Schools that cleave toward the traditional notion of what a university education should be and are a pleasure to read about include Christendom College, Grove City, Hillsdale, Hampden-Sydney, University of Chicago and Brooklyn College among others. A surprise college, right here in New York City is The King's College, a school 'rooted in the Christian liberal arts tradition,' housed in the Empire State Building of all places.

Then there's that endless list of once perfectly fine liberal arts college, many of them having begun with strong religious affiliations, steeped in tradition and devoted to the classical notion of what a university should be, which have sacrificed their heritage and sold-out to the modern notion of what a university now is, largely a place where truth is relative and the inmates rule the asylum. Not surprisingly, many in this category are in the Northeast: Lafayette College, Williams, the Ivies (though Columbia University, alone among the Ivies, maintains its core curriculum), Amherst, Bucknell, Swarthmore, Haverford and Middlebury just to name a few. Speaking of Williams, a friend reports that during her recent visit to the campus, she and her son learned how incoming freshmen are sorted into living communities based on their race, ethnicity and religion. While these living communities have a long-standing tradition at Williams, it sounds like they are now being used for diversity training at the formerly all-male, mostly white Williams. I thought the ISI guide might have mentioned this case of diversity engineering, but perhaps the authors used up all their energy to arm readers with sufficient warning about Williams' s New England neighbor, Wesleyan University. This originally-Methodist college is so far gone on the progressive spectrum that ISI felt even a red light was not enough to ward off potential applicants.

So, if you'd like your English major to actually be required to read Shakespeare, if you prefer that your student emerge four years and $200,000 later with a grounding in classical literature, Judeo-Christian thought, American history, modern political theory and European intellectual history, if you'd like the college your son or daughter attends to reflect your values and priorities, then you will find this 1,000-page guide, along with introductory essays, to be engrossing, entertaining and informative reading. There’s a link to the ISI sight here on my blog, too!

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