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Great high school sending kids to mediocre colleges?

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Of course, I see it from the perspective of watching students drop out of U of Mi over finances since I've got one alumni from there and one on the way. Many of them are transferring to the totally, unbelievably crappy U commuting distance from here with the totally pathetic excuse for educational programs and aren't too happy about it, but they just can't keep loaning their lives away in order to remain a Wolverine or a Spartan. That said, those two schools (one a top state U and the other still in the top 80) will never want for students because due to reputation a lot of kids will take out tremendous loans and of course the lower income kids who get a lot of grants can afford it if they also get a little merit aid as well. It's the middle class kids with excellent stats that generally can't afford the place as the merit aid combined with stafford loans just doesn't pull them through.

 

I would like to slap my state legislature silly. If I regaled you with what those loons are willing to fund instead of higher education......

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Thank you for posting this.  Is it true that professors at smaller LACs do not do research?  If your student wants to do research while studying at an LAC, they'll need to look elsewhere?   This is quite an eye opener for me, and will definitely influence where my kids apply.  

 

There are a number of LACs with professors doing research.  And many of them involve the undergrads.  My point was that you need to look at each college and see what they're doing.  A lot of the research at really large universities (with grad programs) may be getting done by the grad students.  This may leave the undergrads out, or, if the undergrads are involved, it may be at a lower level.

 

I know that at least some LACs have a person on staff whose sole job is to get undergrads involved in research -- it may be at the college or through outside programs.  They know what's available and where to get funding.  This may be getting more common.

 

My experience with undergrad research is that there are a lot of small colleges out there who may be doing a better job involving undergrads than the BIG research universities.  There is always the anecdote that well, someone knew an undergrad who did fairly high level research at a big research place.  But that's just one student. My point here is that at the smaller colleges, MORE of the students tend to get involved in research if there is any research at all going on at the college (in their area).

 

One really needs to ask questions when deciding on a college.  Just looking at a ranking score may not address any of the issues that will actually make a college a good fit for a student.

 

The advantage of a small LAC, though, can be that the focus is on teaching.  Faculty have traditionally ended up at a place like that because they actually enjoyed teaching and wanted to do it.  At the really large universities, that teaching has not been as valued and people interested in doing a good job teaching have actually been forced out (if only because they didn't focus on getting papers out).  That may be starting to shift now, but the fact remains that an awful lot of the high power researchers that give a school a high ranking (through name recognition, drawing in more applicants through that name recognition that leads to higher rejection rates, etc) have little to do with whether the college is any good for a student.  The RANKING may have very little meaning in terms of an undergrad getting a good basic education and perhaps being involved in higher level research (if that is the path they want to go down)

 

My definition of basic material in my post above was in reference to math/science material.  It does take a couple years to get that in. While a student may come in knowing a lot, they still have a lot to learn, even if they can start in research early on.  And for science/math at least, my personal experience is that it's REALLY important to have good teachers to teach that material.  A lot of the excellent researchers I have known over the years at large research places were definitely NOT all that involved in teaching.   And if they were, they weren't doing a great job of it.  And since much of the ranking of the larger places with big names seems to rest on that, it will mean that depending on rankings to choose a college is basically going in with eyes closed as far as the teaching quality is concerned.

 

There are much better ways to decide on a college.  And these other ways may be what led the original poster to think students were being led astray (because they were choosing lower ranked colleges) when in fact they may actually have been ending up at colleges that were better for undergrads on a number of levels.

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Just to be clear, I was not advocating choosing a college because no one there does research.  I was only pointing out that the rankings will tend to value very high profile research (it gives the school name recognition).

 

But high profile research has a tendency to go hand in hand with very little teaching or a person who doesn't want to be teaching because they've got "better" things to do.

 

That's been my experience at highly ranked research heavy universities.

 

My experience at low ranked LACs is that there are faculty who are just thrilled to be doing research WITH undergrads.  They see it as an extension of their classroom teaching.  And it's not just rinky dink research.  A lot of this is getting published in the most respected journals in those fields.  Many of these faculty are actually well known in their field.

 

But... this is likely not going to end up in a USNews ranking score.  (What will show up is the VERY high profile research that is probably at odds with good teaching.  Unless the place has also put a lot of effort into making teaching a priority.  But THAT priority is unlikely to show up in the score.)

 

 

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You'd have to compare your state's scores with other states. 

The Northeast sends a disproportionate amount of kids to highly selective schools.

 

Also, you'd be shocked how many kids take IB and AP classes, getting As in the classes but can't pass the standardized tests

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I hope I didn't offend anyone by saying the word "mediocre." What I am getting at is maybe a college that focuses more on football than academics or in general doesn't offer rigorous academics. Many people in this area went to those colleges and are doing great! They are solid schools. I just mean that I don't see why the high school kids are running themselves into the ground, with 3 hours of homework per night, and then attending community college or these state schools. If that is where they are going, they might as well enjoy their high school years a bit more. :)

 

There is not one student even going to the east coast. I think the farthest anyone is going is one state away. No one is going to the "colleges that change lives" college that is nearby either. I know these kids are bright and well prepared, it just surprises me.

 

I haven't finished reading the comments, but I will come back and respond. I agree that money is probably an issue, but many of these students would qualify for excellent financial aid packages (just based on average incomes of the area of the school). I do think there is a culture of staying close to home. But why not go to your neighborhood high school - not choose the super academic high school that is enrolled by lottery?

Because there are reasons beyond academic rank that may make a parent choose the "special" high school over the local public. My son attends a private school, at significant cost to us, even though the public high school in our district is perfectly good in rank and reputation. Even though he will almost surely attend a "mediocre" in-state public, or possibly wiill start at CC. The environment at the private HS is much better for him, and this was especially true when he was 14 and beginning 9th grade.

 

Also, my financial philosophy for college is not apply to the best schools you might possibly get into, regardless of expense and location, and then pick the one that has the best-looking FA package. That strategy is too uncertain for me and I'm not okay with that. I DO consider what the cost is of a particular college because I want to send my kids to a school where it is possible for us to pay the tuition if we don't get generous freebies.

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I would be concerned that:

 

1.) The guidance counselors are terrible

2.) The colleges are seeing something lacking in former students.

3.) The colleges are seeing something lacking that those ranking high schools didn't see.

4.) Test scores for students are low in a specific area (a local private school, for example, lacks depth in math and science while being highly rated overall.)

5.) The students are passive and not well-rounded enough or don't have enough outside interests to interest better colleges.

 

Some of the crummiest PSs around here manage to get 2-3 (or more) kids into the competitive state school here each year. I would be concerned about a school that couldn't do more than that. 

Edited by angela in ohio
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There may be many reasons to choose a college that does not do research, but I wanted to comment on the bolded. Professors just researching and not teaching has not been my experience - neither at the public research university where I teach, nor at the top ranked university my DD attends.

 

:iagree:

My son just completed his freshman year.  Every single class he took this year was taught by a professor, many of whom were world-renowned for their research.

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:iagree:

My son just completed his freshman year.  Every single class he took this year was taught by a professor, many of whom were world-renowned for their research.

Yes, this.

 

My son attends U of MI. I know there are lots of stories that abound of research professors letting TA's do everything, bu in our experience with one U of MI alum and one current student, every class, every single one, has been taught by professors, and professors have had ample office hours directly helping students. The TA's have done small group learning type things like labs, or administrated study groups, and some tutoring. They have not by any means ever been in charge of teaching.

 

It probably happens. Somewhere out there. I have personally been a TA at an LAC that ended up having freshman music theory, and the gen ed fine arts appreciation courses entirely dumped on me while professors went off and did their own thing, literally not giving an ounce of time or effort to those classes. I've been the "TA Professor", but still, it seems like it was a total anomaly as most of my friends that went to grad school never had it happen to them.

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It probably happens. Somewhere out there. I have personally been a TA at an LAC that ended up having freshman music theory, and the gen ed fine arts appreciation courses entirely dumped on me while professors went off and did their own thing, literally not giving an ounce of time or effort to those classes. I've been the "TA Professor", but still, it seems like it was a total anomaly as most of my friends that went to grad school never had it happen to them.

It's hard to know whether a professor is teaching and how actively he teaches. I'm sure what brother experienced years ago still goes on today. My brother was taking Chem E at a large nationally recognized research university. He had a chem E course taught in a lecture hall. Well over 200 students enrolled. The professor simply came in and lectured . He did not post office hours and made it clear he was not available. One day he came in and before lecture and "I know some of you are having trouble with the problem sets. I'd like you to work them out amongst yourselves. I'm doing research. Do not approach my teaching assistants either--they work for me. " So, the course was taught by a professor, not a lot of effort in teaching was made by him. This is something you wont know just by researching whether professor's teach.

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Interesting to read about your US exp with profs & TAs. Have to wonder if there's any data being collected about who's actually teaching in your universities? 

It is definitely an issue in Canada. "it’s estimated that more than half of all undergraduates are taught by contract faculty."  

Academia's Dirty Little Secret & another cbc story on same topic. Mind you, our experience has sometimes been that the contract faculty are superior teachers - &  because their positions are precarious, they frequently are creative, flexible, and helpful, or they get fired. Gifted academics and researchers are not always gifted educators. 

 

 

 

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My kids have never had a class not taught by a professor. The only time TAs have been part of the course is in recitation sections.  

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Dd went to a top-ranked LAC for undergrad and a top-ranked research university for grad school. She is SO thankful she went to a LAC for undergrad -- one where teaching and helping undergrads do research was the primary focus of the profs.

 

As an undergrad, dd had fabulous internships and wonderful research opportunities. She didn't get anything published, but she had enough research experience that she received an NSF grant during her first year of grad school (which paid her stipend and research expenses for grad school -- and her monthly pay was significantly higher than the others in her department who depended on standard research grants for funding.....)

 

As a grad student, she did some TA'ing. She was dumbfounded by how little interaction the students had with the profs. She loved both her undergrad and grad school experience, but she is very thankful that she spent her undergraduate days at a school where the focus was truly on the undergrads.

 

YMMV

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As another data point, my kids have attended public universities ranging in size from 8000 UGs to 30,000+ UGs.  They have had no problem forming relationships with their professors.  Ds's professors at Bama have been great mentors.  They also had no issues with being very active in UG research.  

 

My kids have never felt that UGs were not the focus.

 

But....we also actively investigate depts.  We have encountered a few depts where the schools were eliminated from the list quickly.  One was a top research university where ds was informed he had more research experience as a high school student than their UGs b/c their focus was on the grad students.  (Research was a high priority for ds, so that school was immediately removed from his list.) Another was immediately removed from the list when no answer could be given as to what recent grads were doing.  If a UG advisor or dept head cannot tell you what recent grads are doing, they are not engaged with their UGs.

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As another data point, my kids have attended public universities ranging in size from 8000 UGs to 30,000+ UGs.  They have had no problem forming relationships with their professors.  Ds's professors at Bama have been great mentors.  They also had no issues with being very active in UG research.  

 

My kids have never felt that UGs were not the focus.

 

But....we also actively investigate depts.  We have encountered a few depts where the schools were eliminated from the list quickly.  One was a top research university where ds was informed he had more research experience as a high school student than their UGs b/c their focus was on the grad students.  (Research was a high priority for ds, so that school was immediately removed from his list.) Another was immediately removed from the list when no answer could be given as to what recent grads were doing.  If a UG advisor or dept head cannot tell you what recent grads are doing, they are not engaged with their UGs.

 

My research U boy has never had problems forming relationships with professors or others.  Today he's shadowing one of his favorite mentors in neurosurgery.  It's not their first time together.  Many at the hospital are surprised he's not a med school student or resident with as often as they are together.

 

When we were at school for graduation there were oodles and oodles of professors/researchers (and staff) who came up to us letting us know they enjoy our son with specific details as to why.

 

The key lies with the student.  How much effort do they put forth to form these relationships?  How much are they interacting?  All three of mine (two at LACs and one at the research U) are willing to take those first steps and build upon them - genuinely.  We've found that professors truly enjoy assisting students who are eager to learn and willing to help out.

 

I agree with your last paragraph too though.  Investigate what options are available at any particular school.  My research boy picked a school where roughly 80% of undergrads are involved in research.  His school thrives on it.

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Along the lines of the original discussion, ds was telling us that one of best buds at U of MI was accepted to Princeton. Finances were very tight so he opted for UM where he would only have a small student loan - not even the full stafford. Thankfully, he seems to be very happy with his choice. The high school this student hailed from was one of the best in Michigan so I would imagine that his choice hurts that school's statistics.

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