Do not adhere to the mythology of “prestigious” universities

A few years ago, a Catholic preparatory school invited me to speak to its association of parents of pupils on the future of Catholic education. After describing how a truly Catholic education, emphasizing human and sacramental formation as well as intellectual competence, equipped young people to meet the challenges of a world that had gone astray, I entered a long period of time. of questions and answers.

In my prepared remarks, I had extolled the virtues of small Catholic liberal arts colleges with rigorous core curricula that introduced students to the best that Western civilization has to offer. I’ve also taken a few shots at expensive schools that fill the upper levels of these dumb college assessment systems, but all too often are sandboxes of political correctness in which intellectual silliness (and worse) is at stake. for something like $ 90,000 a year. The repression was fierce. Unless Johnny or Jane went to Stanford or Duke or the Ivies, the parents insisted he or she would be ruined for life. I responded with the example of my daughters, graduates of the University of Dallas, who had pursued a fulfilling family and professional life after attending leading graduate schools (in medicine and arts education) at which the UD had prepared them beautifully.

The pushback continued. What about “networking”? I suggested that some serious professional ‘networking’ had taken place in senior school and that the undergraduate years were better spent providing one’s mind and soul than chatting with an eye on the main chance – in especially in a campus environment hostile to Catholic understandings of what makes for true human happiness. It lasted about 45 minutes, but I don’t think the spirits changed. Too many parents had drunk Kool-Aid from “prestige schools” for me to make a big dent.

The next morning, I had a coffee with a few monks in charge of the school, several of whom thanked me for challenging the myth of the prestigious school; they had tried for years to do the same, and to no avail. Do I have any suggestions for trying again? After a moment of reflection, I said, in so many words, “Next September, send the parents of each incoming elder a copy of Tom Wolfe’s novel, I am Charlotte Simmons. It’s pretty crude at times, but it’s an accurate portrayal of undergraduate life at a high-end university and it fits your vision of education perfectly – because in Wolfe’s tale, the youngster brilliant innocent of the title is intellectually corrupt before she is morally corrupt. Being told there is no “truth” in a first year class is the first step in finally giving in to the pandemic of behavioral pressures on campus and being abused by a top athlete . “

I’m not sure if my advice was followed, but I would still recommend this splash of cold water to overheated parents with the idea that “networking” (at a very high price) is worth the human cost of four years filled. intellectual absurdities and social pressures that no young person should have to face.

My friends at the aforementioned University of Dallas recently confirmed my thinking with some instructive statistics. The UD offers one of the most rigorous core programs in the country in a campus climate where revival is not king (or even club heck), where Catholicism is celebrated rather than belittled, and where students of first cycle are transformed by a semester in Rome from which they emerge as the guardians of a civilizational heritage. So how are its graduates behaving in the competition for higher education? In 2019, UD graduates had an 84% medical school acceptance rate: twice the national average, 21% higher than Cornell in 2016, higher than Duke in 2017 or Dartmouth in 2020, and higher than Penn, Johns Hopkins and USC in recent years. In addition, UD was first in the country in the percentage of its majors in mathematics and statistics who went on to obtain a doctorate in these fields. The numbers make it clear: the best of Catholic liberal arts education prepares students for all intellectual or professional – and does so in a much healthier environment.

Parents and high school students making these tough decisions in college would do well to look beyond the American News and World Report college rankings and consider UD, Benedictine College, University of Mary, Christendom College, Thomas Aquinas College, and other small Catholic liberal arts colleges. By all accounts, they are hitting way above their weight. And as a rule, they do not come out of snowflakes awake, detached, or contemptuous of Catholicism.

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