Colleges are competing for students and their tuition dollars. Students should thus become more savvy consumers.
The nation’s most expensive college, the University of Chicago, costs $81,531 per academic year. Columbia costs $80,339. The total cost of one academic year at George Washington University is $79,760. Even state schools aren’t cheap. The University of Virginia estimates costs at $34,080 for Virginians and $68,610 for non-Virginians, while the University of Michigan estimates costs at $31,484 for Michigan residents and $66,698 for nonresidents.
One would think the expense of college would make potential students thoughtfully approach where they go to school. Oh, and that universities would lower costs by cutting unnecessary amenities.
That is not the case. The University of Alabama at Birmingham advertises a zip line into a pool, the University of Alabama markets a 25-foot-tall waterslide, and the University of Missouri, Iowa State University, Texas Tech University, and Missouri State University promote a lazy river. High Point in North Carolina offers a private steakhouse with three-course meals. In addition to the academic offerings, what should high school seniors and their parents actually pay attention to?
Look for a school that takes intellectual diversity seriously.
Students can find fun and good food anywhere. But they won’t find a respectful intellectual environment at all schools. The Committee on Freedom of Expression at the University of Chicago released a report on intellectual diversity. It states:
“In a word, the University’s fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed. It is for the individual members of the University community, not for the University as an institution, to make those judgments for themselves, and to act on those judgments not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas that they oppose.”
81 institutions or faculty bodies, including Princeton, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the University of Colorado System, have adopted or affirmed that statement or a similar one.
Unfortunately, this commitment to intellectual diversity isn’t found everywhere. One professor described Williams College as being in “meltdown” after an attempt was made to adopt the Chicago principles.
Make sure there is an intellectual home for conservatives on campus.
On a lot of campuses, there is a faculty member, club, or center that students know is conservative-friendly. At Princeton, conservative students seek out professor Robert George, while they find professor Harvey Mansfield at Harvard. At Stanford, they can get involved with the Hoover Institution.
Try to find out where the conservative students go. Often there is an informal network that freshmen will want to get connected with right away.
Read between the lines in how involved the administration is in the everyday lives of students.
When I was in school at the University of Virginia 15 years ago, we knew some of the administrators but were certainly not on a first-name basis with them. Getting called into a dean’s office was serious business.
In 2016, I spent a semester as a resident fellow at the Harvard Institute of Politics. The students were on a first-name basis with the deans, beyond just their residential college deans, and seemed to have had personal conversations with them. It is concerning that the deans were so involved in the lives of students.
Search the school’s website to see how many administrators, deans, and diversity officers there are. The number of administrators on campus has been growing: “In 1990, there were approximately twice as many full-time faculty at public research institutions as administrators. In 2012, the two groups were nearly equal.”
These people can have a big impact on the college experience of students, and not in a good way.
Over the years, I’ve heard lots of different stories about how people picked a college. As some schools focus on areas besides academics and let their intellectual atmosphere suffer, students should ask tougher questions. The costs of college, the money and the education, are too high not to.