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    #197093 - 07/24/14 09:56 AM Re: Ivy League Admissions. [Re: 22B]
    HowlerKarma Offline

    Registered: 02/05/11
    Posts: 5181
    Bostonian, I'm pretty sure that he meant it tongue-in-cheek, given the tenor of the rest of the piece. I mean, you have an excellent point, there, but I think that the author agrees with you. smile

    I can definitely see both sides of the Elite-vs.-Egalitarian education argument, Bostonian (and Old Dad)-- because I know that those experiences also happen at public state universities, including small ones with enthusiastic faculty. Not everyone teaching at a public Uni does no research-- not even at primarily undergrad institutions! It's just that you stay out of the shipping lanes, as it were-- you occupy little niches that are out-of-the-way and likely to stay that way.

    I also know that lackluster courses taught by adjuncts or barely-English-speaking TA's can happen at any institution.

    The details matter there. I would not be happy sending my DD into any class where the majority of the teaching was being shouldered by a TA corps or by adjuncts. But I'm also aware that a good TA can be better than a disgruntled, dried up old jerk who is teaching only because the department is FORCING him/her to do so, and taking it out on any student with the temerity to show up at office hours.

    Many physics majors taught themselves by working individually on problem sets and then discussing them with other classmates, rather than going to professors' office hours. I think this is a reasonable approach.

    That's the ONLY learning approach that I've seen work for most students in STEM, speaking plainly-- so what I look at when I look at quality of programming isn't to be found on paper. I look for posted solutions, or at least notes about them on faculty offices, I look for clusters of students with textbooks and laptops open, CHATTER about what they are working on, and spaces that invite such groups to "hang" near faculty offices and lab spaces. I look at what's hanging on the walls-- is it graduate posters and publications by faculty? Or is it internship opportunities, undergraduate research posters, funny cartoons, lists of helpful links, etc.?

    That's my insider tip for parents-- when you go to look at colleges, look for that. Don't listen to the marketing spiel. Believe what you see and hear for yourself.
    Schrödinger's cat walks into a bar. And doesn't.

    #197100 - 07/24/14 10:52 AM Re: Ivy League Admissions. [Re: Bostonian]
    JonLaw Offline

    Registered: 07/29/11
    Posts: 2007
    Loc: The Sub-Tropics
    Originally Posted By: Bostonian
    What's wrong with being a doctor in Dayton? I think the author is projecting his own preferences onto others. I think my middle son, given his interests, may become an engineer. Penn State and many other state schools could be a good place for him.

    Silly, that's because being a doctor in Dayton is indicative of profound underachievement and catastrophic life failure.

    You don't stand astride history like a colossus if you are a Daytonian doctor.

    And, by definition, you are not a CEO of any relevant international megacorporation.

    Also, the word "doctor" makes one think "general practitioner". As opposed to "pediatric neurosurgeon."

    It can really be summed up in one word.


    #197102 - 07/24/14 11:07 AM Re: Ivy League Admissions. [Re: 22B]
    aquinas Offline

    Registered: 11/02/12
    Posts: 2513
    Originally Posted By: Bostonian
    It's probably true that the first priority of most professors at elite research universities is research -- that's the primary basis on which they are tenured.

    One of the universities I attended is ranked in the top 10 globally for research output and its tenure model weights research only at 40%, with teaching weighted equally and the balance going to service. So even some research juggernauts can't neglect teaching.
    What is to give light must endure burning.

    #197116 - 07/24/14 12:27 PM Re: Ivy League Admissions. [Re: 22B]
    HowlerKarma Offline

    Registered: 02/05/11
    Posts: 5181
    Yeah, but after tenure...

    that's the real problem. "Tenure" as such takes care of (at most) the first ten years of a thirty year (or more) reign as a professor at an institution. That is another thing to watch for in quality undergraduate education (as opposed to merely "elite" in brand name, I mean)-- are SENIOR faculty, on average, the ones in undergrad classrooms? Or is it only a few of them, mostly those who haven't published anything in 20 years either?

    Which undergraduate classes are being taught by faculty, and which operate as their own entities, with separate faculty who do nothing else, and run a stable of adjuncts/TAs to staff them? Largely it's service courses that operate this way-- in Math, it's Calc, in Chemistry, it's Gen Chem, in Physics it's Gen Phys, etc. Those classes tend to be more or less similar from one institution to another, and only rarely are really stellar faculty the ones teaching them-- most often, it's someone who specializes in that course. Almost every large institution has those people. If they are good at what they do, you should see fair numbers of majors-- about one junior undergrad per faculty member in the department in something like chemistry or physics-- and if they are total trolls, you'll see far fewer majors than expected... or you'll see a parallel system in which the majors aren't in that "machine" with the rest of the students who need the course.

    Those are the data endpoints-- all I'm doing is describing a mechanism. Most classes that are numbers-intensive like that, they don't want the department's own majors getting lost in them. On the other hand, some places figure that if you have the right stuff, you'll make it through and they'll see you as a sophomore. Different kind of environment, though. DH went to a large state flagship in CA that operated that way.
    Schrödinger's cat walks into a bar. And doesn't.

    #197122 - 07/24/14 12:42 PM Re: Ivy League Admissions. [Re: Bostonian]
    Quantum2003 Offline

    Registered: 02/08/11
    Posts: 1432
    Originally Posted By: Bostonian
    Originally Posted By: Old Dad
    I know a Harvard Professor in STEM who told me, "Don't bother sending you sons to an ivy league school as an under graduate, generally speaking, they're much better off in any number of state or small private colleges as under graduates where professors actually teach the classes. Under graduates just aren't looked upon with much importance at an ivy league school. When they get to the graduate level courses, that's different."

    As a physics major at Harvard, I never took a course that did not have lectures by a professor, although some of the lower-level classes also had sections with teaching assistants. It's probably true that the first priority of most professors at elite research universities is research -- that's the primary basis on which they are tenured. But the physics professors were enthusiastic and very knowledgeable about what they taught, and I think they felt that training the next generation of physicists was a serious responsibility. They would not skimp on topics covered out of apathy or the desire to make things easy for students. Many physics majors taught themselves by working individually on problem sets and then discussing them with other classmates, rather than going to professors' office hours. I think this is a reasonable approach.

    If you are a well-prepared physics major, coming in with 5's on AP Physics C and AP Calculus, you may be taking graduate courses as early as your junior year, so there is not a bright line separating undergraduate and graduate education.

    ITA. I didn't attend Harvard, but a different Ivy and had the same experience as Bostonian. I am not trying to argue that the elite schools are better than the state schools, but I do find some of the criticisms levied against Ivies rather foreign.

    #197130 - 07/24/14 02:22 PM Re: Ivy League Admissions. [Re: 22B]
    HowlerKarma Offline

    Registered: 02/05/11
    Posts: 5181
    Yes, but recall that most of the parents posting here are referring to personal experiences in higher ed that date back decades. The entire landscape has shifted.
    Schrödinger's cat walks into a bar. And doesn't.

    #197135 - 07/24/14 03:09 PM Re: Ivy League Admissions. [Re: 22B]
    Flyingmouse Offline

    Registered: 05/10/14
    Posts: 116
    I agree with Quantum. I'd argue that there are huge differences between Ivy League schools and non-Ivy league schools.

    If you're child is attending a large state school or an Ivy, chances are that many classes will be taught by TAs. That isn't something that is limited to the Ivys. However, at all institutions, more than half of the faculty is likely to consist of non-tenure track faculty ( If your school is in an area with a lot of unemployed PhDs (such as an area near a large PhD granting institution), chances are that there will be a lot of competition for those poorly paid faculty positions. If your child is attending a rural university without a PhD program, the pickings may be more slim and the quality of the faculty may be lower.

    However, I think that the peer group might be even more important than the faculty. Ivy League schools are full of kids with high IQs. Less selective schools are not. I attended a top-10 SLAC where the lowest math class was Calculus. I work at a regional university with average SAT scores in the 1100s and where a lot of students know less math than my elementary school-aged son. There also is a huge difference between the classes at my university and at the one that I attended. At my SLAC, faculty could assume that the students were competent in math and were capable of learning the material on their own. At the school where I teach, I can't make that same assumption. The classes are geared at a lower level, but are probably taught more clearly at my current university. By clearly, I mean that we do not expect our students to make big leaps on their own without guidance. At my current university, we also require our students to do more homework because they 1) do not tend to do well on exams and need the extra points to pass their classes and 2) need the extra reinforcement to understand the material. You can get an idea of whether a school thinks that its gen ed classes are generic or not by looking at whether or not they accept AP scores. If they don't accept them, they think that their classes offer something extra that is not found in a typical gen ed class.

    Would I send my DYS-qualifying daughter to my current university? Yes, because she'll get a huge tuition break. She'll also be a big fish in a small pond. Studies have shown that the top students at a particular university tend to drift toward STEM careers, so she is probably more likely to go into a STEM field if she attends this school versus an Ivy. Would she receive a better education at an Ivy? Probably.

    #197140 - 07/24/14 04:02 PM Re: Ivy League Admissions. [Re: 22B]
    Val Offline

    Registered: 09/01/07
    Posts: 3296
    Loc: California
    Originally Posted By: Flyingmouse
    I agree with Quantum. I'd argue that there are huge differences between Ivy League schools and non-Ivy league schools.

    Remember also that the guy who wrote the New Republic article wasn't claiming that there's no difference between elite colleges and public universities (he specifically said he wasn't).

    He was SPECIFICALLY criticizing the insane status race that's going on right now at the elites, the fact that the elites feed it, and that it's damaging young people (as Bostonian and the article noted, 6 ECs isn't enough for some of these colleges). So none of the comments in the last few posts are really relevant to that point.

    Edited by Val (07/24/14 04:03 PM)

    #197142 - 07/24/14 05:15 PM Re: Ivy League Admissions. [Re: 22B]
    HowlerKarma Offline

    Registered: 02/05/11
    Posts: 5181
    I'm not so sure that it's not. The reason why I think that the behavior at the elite end of the scale IS relevant to the rest of higher ed is the phenomenon that has been driven by the crazy coming from the top end.

    So spending on sports facilities might not be a common thing at Ivies (and it often IS now at SPF's {selective public flagships}), but spending to make college a spa-like atmosphere certainly is a pervasive (and toxically $$$) phenomenon throughout higher ed now. It's rooted in that same competition-minded atmosphere, it's just the flip side of things, aimed at making a campus more desirable, thus more selective when they can reject an ever-higher % of applicants (most of whom are people that have little business applying there to begin with). OF COURSE the message has to be that attending somewhere other than Super Elite College is a massive failure... because only those who are worthy enough get in to Super Elite College... and look, we know that this is so because so few of them flunk out once they are there... and so many of them are SO successful once they graduate... so really, the ONLY way to be one of those successful people is to do whatever it takes to get into Super Elite College.

    I was so sad when even UChi, which had resisted this poison, finally caved and started down the path of the marketing blitzkrieg to drive applicant numbers.

    Marketing, in other words-- which is resulting the precise craziness that the author notes in all its varied glories.

    That pressure for more "effective branding" and "better reach" among prospective students translates into all manner of malfeasance in the sector, and to a less extreme extent, it goes now for ALL of higher ed-- everything from cheating on the AP exams, superscoring a dozen achievement tests, lying about extracurriculars, to shenanigans at admissions offices is part and parcel of this phenomenon.

    Most reasonably bright students who have done reasonably well at school, have a few outside interests, and no problems testing? Are GOING to get into colleges that are completely well-suited to them in terms of their needs. But that is getting completely lost in the buzzing noise surrounding crap like USN&WR's "selective 100" and the like.

    Life isn't a disaster if you don't go to an Ivy, or for that matter, a SLAC. In fact, in some ways (not all ways, of course) those schools are not appreciably "better" than their less selective and lower-cost alternatives. The costs (direct, indirect, and opportunity) for getting INTO and attending an Ivy/SPF/SLAC may well outweigh the benefits. That aspect of things does get lost in this kind of conversation-- and I think it is an important omission that the author makes, there. He hints at it, of course, with his Dayton remark, or the one about service not requiring a [SPAM]. But being part and parcel of that elite system himself, he can't really understand those opportunity costs. Families are willing to absolutely bankrupt themselves getting their kids into those places-- and paying for them. They're willing to mortgage those kids' futures for decades in the name of student debt to accomplish it. All because of what they've been told is true about some vast difference between the "right" institutions versus all of the (apparently) great, unwashed rest of them. sick

    That is where it becomes about ALL colleges, not just the Ivies. Now, the elite colleges have created that gulf in perceptions, but the rest of the higher ed sector is certainly dancing to the same tune, ever more frantic to put their own institutions to the correct side of some line that confers absolution from "mediocrity" or worse.

    I'm not part of the elite system. I don't know-- maybe my education was deficient and I just don't know. Perhaps. But when I've compared (careful) notes with those who have attended elite institutions, they eventually wrinkle their brows and have to admit that contrary to every expectation, my undergraduate education seems to have been just as fine as that obtained at a SLAC. I learned many of the same things, I spent my time engaged in meaningful discourse and social interactions with other smart people, etc. Just at a fraction of the cost-- and without the prestige of their diploma's seal, of course. I didn't seem to have any trouble keeping up with them professionally, or while I was a graduate student. I can't say for certain, obviously, but I don't think that my life has been HARMED in any way by virtue of not attending a more elite institution. I was certainly accepted to a few, but decided that the costs were too high to justify them. I've not seen any reason to revise that opinion in the past 30 years.

    There really IS some truth to the notion that what you get out of your college experience is highly dependent upon YOU, as a student, and not as much upon the institution itself. That is more true than many parents or students (or the institutions themselves) might believe. So I would not necessarily answer "probably" to a DYS-level student getting a "better" education at an Ivy. I'd answer "perhaps" or "possibly."

    If the real difference IS the students admitted (and it is), then ask yourself this: What kinds of students are Ivies selecting for NOW, compared with thirty years ago? There have been changes, all right. Those changes have been pressure to select for higher SES, and for more Tiger-parented, anything-goes-as-long-as-it-gets-the-prize antics. A stunning number of such students no longer believe that taking prescription stimulants or cheating are actually, you know, wrong if they are done in the pursuit of a personal goal. The elite colleges are selecting for those students. If college admissions were a beauty pageant, the Ivies would be selecting those who are willing to do plastic surgery to whatever extent necessary, and maybe more than that in terms of icky behavior. They don't see it that way, of course.
    Schrödinger's cat walks into a bar. And doesn't.

    #197143 - 07/24/14 05:58 PM Re: Ivy League Admissions. [Re: 22B]
    intparent Offline

    Registered: 12/16/09
    Posts: 553
    OMG... this thread is baaaackkk! Anyway...

    "No one but me knows he fakes being well-read by thumbing through the first and last chapters of any book he hears about and obsessively devouring reviews in lieu of the real thing. He does this not because he’s incurious, but because there’s a bigger social reward for being able to talk about books than for actually reading them."

    My kid did this a lot, but it is because she is a Quiz Bowl literature specialist. Main thing she needed to know was character names, location of book, and a bit about the plot. smile Not that she didn't go on and read many of them, she did, but she also just checked out enough to learn those salient details on quite a few.

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