DailyDirt: Which College Is The Best?

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Astute high school seniors are looking at which colleges to apply to, and there is no dearth of college rankings to make some schools look better than others on paper. If a college applicant is looking for "earning power" -- it's not the school, but the choice of major that really matters. (And remember: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, etc, etc. never even graduated from college...) If you're looking for social networking, it might help to go to a prestigious school -- or you could just try to be really active on Twitter/Facebook. Maybe the best strategy is to apply to as many schools as possible, and figure it out after the thick acceptance letters are sent out. After you've finished checking out those links, take a look at our Daily Deals for cool gadgets and other awesome stuff.

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  • identicon
    Andrew D. Todd, 9 Oct 2015 @ 4:33am

    In-State Honors Colleges.

    Every state university I have ever heard of has an honors college. Say the school takes in two thousand freshmen, then it selects the brightest hundred or so, and runs a special program for them, with appropriate lower-division courses. If possible, a dormitory is allocated for them, and the honors program becomes a Residential College. A university usually has an obsolete small dormitory, which was built in, say, 1924, when the school was much smaller, or, acquired in 1982, when a fraternity was chucked off campus for abundant cause, and the school bought the house cheap to make sure that the fraternity "bros" stayed gone. There's always a professor who wonders what it would be like to teach in an essentially personal style, like a traditional Oxford or Cambridge Don, or a New England Prep School headmaster, and is willing to accept an appointment as Master of the Residential College. It's not all that difficult to set up what amounts to a Harvard "house" for students bright enough to have gotten into Harvard.

    The limiting factor on a college is almost always the students, and more particularly, the fact that the students do not want to study, and do want to be party animals. College is less controlling than high school and home, and a lot of these people break out. The faculty are always smarter than the courses they teach. The library always has many books which have not been read for twenty years, if ever.

    As for graduate school, the people running the graduate school admissions are experts about universities, naturally, and they aren't likely to be impressed by superficialities. They know all about honors colleges, and will treat them fairly.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Rosco P Coltrane (profile), 9 Oct 2015 @ 7:55am

    Not buying it

    Unless you want to become an engineer or doctor, I don't see the ROI of sending a kid to college anymore. Even software professionals can be extremely well trained on their own or in a 13-week boot camp for way less money.

    Besides avoiding all of the debt, your kid won't come out indoctrinated by the socialist professors.

    If my kid decides college is right for them, we will be doing a cost/benefit analysis spreadsheet that includes international colleges.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Del_Varner, 9 Oct 2015 @ 8:28am

      Re: Not buying it

      Well said. Given the availability of high quality online computer science classes, why paid through your behind to fund useless college administrators. Stanfor offers Ullman's class on automata theory, so you can even get into the theoretical aspects if you want to (I highly suggest this class). The possible downside is "certification". Human Resource departments use this sort of thing as a filter. It would seem that a person interested in this sort of approach would have to develop a portfolio fo software to give to a hiring manager.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        OldMugwump (profile), 10 Oct 2015 @ 12:35pm

        Re: Re: Not buying it

        But most (> 50%) positions don't get filled via HR departments; they get filled based on personal connections - somebody knows somebody they used to work with, who was good...

        In those (majority) of cases, the HR paperwork happens after the hiring decision is already made.

        Certifications and degrees are useful mainly to young people at the start of their career, when they have no reputation and nobody knows them.

        Once the "foot is in the door", they carry little weight.

        I'm a big fan of apprenticeships and the like as an alternative to college.

        Unfortunately there is a big push these days to basically outlaw these by aggressive enforcement of minimum wage laws.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Oct 2015 @ 12:07pm

      Re: Not buying it

      Yes but getting hired past the pointy haired HR boss is often difficult if you are missing a degree.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      OldMugwump (profile), 10 Oct 2015 @ 12:29pm

      Re: Not buying it

      You don't need college for most software engineering positions either, or many electrical engineering positions.

      But you do need experience, knowledge, and ability.

      There are many ways to acquire experience and knowledge; college is just one (rather expensive) way.

      Ability is inborn - no amount of schooling will give you that.

      But formal education is a win for those who are not natural students - people who won't learn unless someone else teaches. A lot of people are like that; maybe most.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Oct 2015 @ 11:14am

    Only go to college if you absolutely need to for the job you want.

    Look at trade schools and tech schools.

    If you go to a university you don't need to go to the highest ranked school. Get a good education as cheaply as possible by getting scholarships, grants, and working while attending school.

    Don't ever expect me or anyone else to pay off your student loans because you got a worthless degree with high debts all because the school was high ranked and you never checked to see if you could actually be employed using your degree.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Andrew D. Todd, 12 Oct 2015 @ 4:47am

    Engineering Education as Childhood Education.

    Mathematics and Computer Science are child prodigy subjects, like Art and Music. Your best chance to learn mathematics is at the youngest possible age. Universities are simply not set up to deal with children. The internet, on the other hand, in such forms as Khan Academy, can reach out into a third-grade classroom. You can have the best of both worlds-- an in-class teacher who knows how to deal with the emotions of children, and a source of mathematical expertise, both in one place.

    The vast majority of university math classes are College Algebra, and they are taught to people who are more or less math-blind, and have a long history of flunking math classes. A few years ago, there was a curious transition point. The number of people taking AP Calculus became greater than the number of people taking freshman calculus in college. So, increasingly, the people taking Freshman Calculus will be those who didn't get it the first time. The system simply will not concede that these people are no good at math, and let them go and do something which does not require math. The system insists that every future businessman should become an accountant, and tries to teach him all the things an accountant should know, including enough calculus and statistics to understand Operations Research. However, the reality is that the kinds of firms which benefit from accounting knowledge are large, and have central computer systems. Very few businessmen have a chance to get into a position where accounting is vital. I suspect that what is happening is the "College Algebra-ization" of STEM subjects. People are working up computer programs to teach various subjects. Colleges are using these programs as a cost-saving measure, for students whom they have already written off as potential engineers, scientists, or mathematicians, at the same time that children are using these programs to learn mathematics at an early age.

    In Art and Music, there is a full-blown divergence from the normal education system. General education in Art and Music effectively ceases in the sixth grade or thereabouts, and that is only if you count crafts instead of fine art. Children who go on in Art and Music get private teachers, and university Art and Music schools are only interested in students who have had years of private instruction, and are already at a level far above the typical educated adult who does not happen to be an artist or musician. A BFA or B. Mus. program is like a graduate school, not like college. Many of the best Art and Music schools are not affiliated with universities, but rather with other institutions, such as art museums or symphony orchestras.

    Suppose that were to happen for STEM subjects. Suppose that, if universities taught STEM subjects at all, it would be at the level of students organizing research and development projects. I mean something like an undergraduate student organizing an open-source project, in consultation with his professor, and then going into the high schools to find kids to work on the project. Good engineering schools would be much smaller. They simply wouldn't admit people who needed to be explicitly taught stuff which can be learned from a book. I suspect that a lot of the foreign graduate students would go as well. Laboratory work is becoming more automated, to the point of machines incorporating Artificial Intelligence, and exhibiting goal-seeking behavior; and it is a significant handicap for an engineer if he cannot communicate well enough to act as a salesman or a political organizer. The kind of engineering school professor who would remain after the STEM subjects had been scaled back would be someone like Richard M. Stallman, who wants to do engineering for the public good instead of making money. A university is a great place to launch something like GNU from.

    In round numbers, the first two years of an engineering education can be described as "general scientific education," that is, First Year Calculus, Second Year Calculus (Differential Equations, Vector Calculus, and Matrix Algebra), Freshman Physics (with Calculus), Freshman Chemistry (differing from high school chemistry in its emphasis on chemical thermodynamics), Introductory Computer Science (Data Structures and Algorithms), and required liberal education. There are, or have been, AP exams covering everything except Second-Year Calculus. You can meet the liberal arts requirement by presenting a foreign language, and that is generally held to be better than a bunch of survey courses. Right now, you can do the first two years of engineering school by passing AP exams and taking, maybe two summers of Community College in subjects where AP exams are missing. I am pretty sure that all of this material can eventually be taught in the fifth or sixth grades by computer/internet methods.

    The third year of engineering school is a body of material known as "engineering fundamentals," amounting to a B.S. in classical physics. The fourth year is a major in a particular field of engineering, such as mechanical engineering, civil engineering, or electrical engineering. Again this material can probably be moved down into high school, again by a system of dual enrollment, in which the student belongs to the high school for subjects such as English, History, and Gym, but goes elsewhere on the internet to learn engineering, and spends every Saturday at an engineering school doing practical/laboratory work. What the undergraduate student still has to learn is to have the experience of meeting someone like Richard Stallman, and beginning to think about engineering in social and political terms, and _that_ is the proper function of a university engineering school. The typical undergraduate would be part of the teaching staff every Saturday, while working on more advanced stuff during the week, and being encouraged to take a lot of liberal arts classes.

    If you largely strip the university of its science and engineering, it becomes a humanistic university. The single biggest and most important faculty of applied knowledge would now be the law school. The better law schools discourage applications from people who have studied practical skills in college. They like candidates who have majored in English, or History, or Philosophy, or something like that. Honors colleges fit into the pattern of the humanistic university. If you are running an honors college, what you do is to expect students to spend more time exploring the library, and to write more, based on the things they have found in their explorations. "Something new, Something true, and Something I did not already know," as A.J.Cronin's professor put it. In short, you treat them more like liberal arts graduate students.

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