Originally Posted by aeh
The majority of what one gets out of college at an accredited four-year institution is what one puts into it, and the experiences one seeks out. Not the name of the school, the quality of instruction...

I disagree. The quality of instruction is enormously important.

I went to a small liberal arts college. The expectations were high and the instructors were generally excellent. I don't recall taking a single multiple choice test there. Compare to a nearby state U where we could take classes. Classes were often huge, interaction with instructors was therefore minimal, and MC tests were the norm. Expectations were lower. Papers that got As at the big state U would have got Ds at my college.

I agree that the physics or chem departments at a big university have a lot to offer and have high standards. But the same isn't true of all the departments. The reality is that a lecture with 200 or 500 students is very different from one with 20. A handful of the savvy state U students used to come to my college to take lower level science classes because our "giant" lecture classes had 40-50 students, compared to 500+ where they were. They got more attention at my little college. Full stop.

The thing about little undergrad-focused colleges is that the emphasis is on teaching, not research. So these colleges put a greater priority on the former, while the big research universities have a very, very high priority on research.

Now: I also understand that standards have fallen at many colleges since I graduated in the late 80s. My own alma mater has something like two dozen "studies" majors (up from a handful in my time) and has eased the science requirements while also providing easier options. I also know that the costs of many private colleges are over $70,000 a year and rising. I'm not sure that's worth it. I also know that you can go to a community college and have small classes with terrific instruction for about 1/100th to 1/50th of the price.

But my point still stands: the quality of instruction is very important, as is class size. I teach myself a lot of things, but I learn a lot faster from a good instructor. Nothing compares to learning from someone who really knows the subject, and who knows 1) what to emphasize now based on what's coming later, and 2) how to put an idea in the context of the larger field. Poor instruction can impoverish a student by forcing him to waste time and by not illuminating the important ideas.

It's a complex problem that's made more complex by inequality in our society and by the US competitive ethos (as opposed to a community ethos).

Last edited by Val; 03/31/19 03:21 PM.