Friday, March 24, 2006

Why an Education at a Place Like Wheaton is Worth the Exhorbitant Price

I noticed this posting by Margaret Soletan at University Diaries about the Colleges that Change Lives book by Loren Pope. Wheaton is one of those forty colleges, and that's one of the reasons (that we change lives, not that we're in the book) I've been very happy to stay here even when other opportunities at other 'prestige levels' have presented themselves.

An example: Friday a colleague copied me on an email she wrote to a student who is graduating this year. Now of course I don't have favorites, but if I did, this student would be one of them. Intense about everything he/she does; really devoted to intellectual life without being arrogant about it; well read from a genuine sense of interest; just great fun to have in class because he/she knows how to argue and have a good time doing it.

But this student is not very worldly at all and is about to graduate into a world that puts a high premium on being worldly. I know that this student is going to be hugely successful one day, but I'm guessing that the first year or so is going to be a challenge, and the student knows this and is, as is every about-to-graduate senior, very worried.

Well, my colleague wrote a three-page email to the student discussing strategies for getting through the next year, and not one word was boiler-plate or cliche. Everthing was exactly tailored to the student, based on much discussion and much thought. My colleague discussed the specific worries the student has, the specific strengths and talents the student has, and my colleague came up with really solid, practical advice for the student. This email must have taken a good solid hour to write, not to mention the many conversations that must have led up to it. The thought behind it has obviously been developing for the years that we have both been advising this student.

I think if the student takes this advice, he/she will have much less of a struggle in the next couple of years and will much more easily move towards the great success he or she is destined for. For this student in particular, but for most students, really, a bunch of platitudes wasn't going to cut it.

But although my colleague's work is (like everything this colleague does) exceptionally good, it is the norm rather than the exception. Although I'm obviously not as thoughtful or talented as my colleague, I've had the great opportunity to see students' lives change on my watch, and occasionally I've been able to give them a little bit of help. It is one of the best things about teaching at Wheaton.

That's why you pay 40K a year to send your kid to college.

1 comment:

AlaudaA said...

True. It is worth the price, but that doesn't always mean it's an option because the price...

I'm a former student of yours from Wheaton six years ago - I left after my first year for a number of reasons, one being that it was too expensive, two being that I thought I wanted something else from my college experience. Well I did something else, a much larger (biggest in the nation, in fact) university, a much larger social scene, and a much larger city.

But the only professor I'm still in touch with from undergraduate is my Wheaton first year seminar professor. And I struggled the first year at Big University because the classes were huge, the tests were multiple choice, and I was utterly bored.

Looking back, my decision to leave was correct for a number of reasons - there were other tragic events that I needed to be here for, and am glad now that I was able to work for positive change on during college... but on a personal level Wheaton would have been a better place for me intellectually.

Now I'm in law school at a top school, and I have to say, even that academically doesn't compare. I never felt like a dork at Wheaton.

Melissa Stratton (Potapova, now, however - married:P)